OAG not appealing acquittal of PSS chief; appeal only on important legal issue


The Office of the Attorney General yesterday clarified that it is not appealing the acquittal of Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan of a traffic case that charged her with three counts of violating the government vehicle provisions of the Commonwealth Code.

Assistant attorney general Matthew Baisley told Saipan Tribune that the Commonwealth is appealing a narrow yet important legal issue decided in Sablan’s case that may impact future cases.

Baisley said what they are doing is appealing the legal ruling in Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho’s order under 6CMC 8101(a), which states the “Commonwealth government shall have the right to appeal only when a written enactment intended to have the force and effect of law has been invalid.”

“We will be arguing that the trial court held a statute that the Commonwealth is obligated to enforce to be invalid,” he said.

However, the prosecutor pointed out, in no event can the appeal reverse Camacho’s finding Sablan not guilty.

Baisley said pursuant to 6CMC 8101(c), the CNMI Supreme Court may not reverse any finding of not guilty, and accordingly the Commonwealth may not appeal a finding of not guilty.

Baisley filed a notice in the Superior Court about the government’s appeal to the CNMI Supreme Court.

At a bench trial last April 27, Camacho found Sablan not guilty of the violation of restriction upon use of government vehicles such as driving a government vehicle that does not bear a government license plate, driving an unmarked government vehicle, and operating a government vehicle with tinting on its windows.

In granting Sablan’s motion for judgment of acquittal, Camacho found that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the car driven by Sablan is a government vehicle as defined in the Traffic Code requiring a lease to be 12 months or more.

Camacho ruled that because the lease agreement was expired, the law no longer requires that the subject car be considered a government vehicle.

The judge said because the car was no longer a government vehicle, it was no longer required to display government license plate and markings, and removal of tinting material.

The vehicle in question is a four-door 2011 Honda Accord sedan that is registered to “Joeten Motor Dept.” and leased to the Public School System.

The prosecution alleged that the lease of this car began Jan. 1, 2014, and Sablan was stopped by a police sergeant in Navy Hill on Jan. 15, 2015, so the government is legally the owner of the vehicle.

Assistant attorney general Emily Cohen prosecuted the case. Defense attorney Brien Sers Nicholas served as counsel for Sablan.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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