Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant appealed after a jury convicted him of abusive sexual contact of a minor. Defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to establish the offense occurred in Indian Country, that the district court erred by admitting uncharged conduct as propensity evidence, and that the use of acquitted conduct to increase his sentence violated his constitutional rights.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Major Crimes Act gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by an Indian within Indian Country, including abusive sexual contact. Here, the deputy superintendent of the trust for the BIA’s Yankton Agency with nearly 32 years of experience, testified that the tract was part of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in 2006. Accordingly, the court held that it would not disturb the conviction because the deputy’s testimony provided a reasonable basis for the jury to find the offense occurred in Indian Country. Further, the court wrote that in affording great weight to the district court’s balancing, it found no abuse of discretion in admitting the evidence under Rules 413 and 414. View "United States v. Frank Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a mother of ten children, was accused of physically abusing several of her children. In November 2017, the court sustained allegations of a petition and ordered the children removed from the parents. Throughout the proceedings, DCFS was given contact information for and/or had contact with a variety of extended family members. However, there was no indication in the record that an ICWA inquiry was made of any of these extended family members.Defendant claims that CFS failed to make an adequate ICWA inquiry because it did not of certain family members. Thus, Defendant asked the court to send the case back to the juvenile court. DCFS countered that Defendant denied any Indian ancestry, which is sufficient to end the inquiry.The Second Appellate District found that there was no evidence conflicting with Defendant's statement that her children were not of Indian ancestry. Additionally, the court concluded that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by finding that DCFS made a proper and adequate inquiry and acted with due diligence. And finally, even if the juvenile court erred by finding DCFS’s inquiry adequate, that error was not prejudicial. View "In re Ezequiel G." on Justia Law

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In two separate cases, an Alaska superior court decided that it could not terminate parental rights to children with alleged Indian heritage without cultural expert testimony, and that the cultural expert testimony presented was too vague and generalized to be helpful. Although it was error to construe the Alaska Supreme Court precedent to require cultural expert testimony in every ICWA case, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to require expert testimony based on its explanation that it could not competently weigh the evidence of harm in these cases without cultural context. And because the cultural expert testimony presented did not provide a meaningful assessment of tribal social and cultural standards and was not grounded in the facts of these particular cases, the Supreme Court held the court did not clearly err by giving the testimony no weight. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to deny termination of parental rights in each case. View "Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv. v. C.A., et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-mother J.J. petitioned for extraordinary relief pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 8.452, seeking review of an order denying family reunification services and setting a permanency planning hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She argued the juvenile court improperly bypassed reunification services, and that real party in interest the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (the Agency) failed to comply with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Agency disputed both contentions. Because the order denying reunification services was not supported by sufficient evidence, the Court of Appeal granted the petition as to mother’s first contention. Because the ICWA issue was premature, the Court rejected mother’s second contention. View "J.J. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court exercised discretionary interlocutory review in this case primarily to decide whether the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) required the State to take active efforts to prevent the breakup of J.M.W.’s family before taking him into emergency foster care. Consistent with the plain text and purpose of WICWA, the Supreme Court concluded that it did. The Court also concluded the trial court was required to make a finding on the record at the interim shelter care hearing that J.M.W.’s out of home placement was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re Dependency of J.M.W." on Justia Law

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S.A. (mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights and ordering G.A. (minor) be placed for adoption. Mother contended the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (Agency) and the juvenile court failed to comply with the inquiry requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because the Agency did not contact extended family members to inquire about the ICWA and the juvenile court made no findings regarding agency compliance in that regard. Mother added that no express ICWA findings were made by the juvenile court during the course of the proceedings, compounding the error, and asked the Court of Appeal to remand the case for ICWA compliance. The Court of Appeal determined that while the juvenile court failed to make an ICWA finding, the error was harmless because the Agency satisfied its duty of inquiry, and there was no reason to believe the minor was an Indian child: "the parents consistently stated they had no reason to believe they had Native American ancestry and did not object to the Agency’s reports that consistently concluded they did not. No further duty to inquire was triggered in this case, as the court and Agency had no reason to believe that an Indian child was involved." From this the Court found no prejudice flowing from the Agency's failure to interview extended family members. The case was remanded for the juvenile court to formally enter its ICWA finding on the record. View "In re G.A." on Justia Law

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LuAnn Erickson appealed a district court order granting her motion to vacate its previous order recognizing a tribal court restraining order under N.D.R.Ct. 7.2, but concluding that the tribal court restraining order was entitled to full faith and credit under 18 U.S.C. § 2265. Erickson argued that the court erred in granting full faith and credit to the tribal court order, because the tribal court lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction, and the tribal court failed to provide her reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard. Specifically she averred she was not properly served with the tribal court proceedings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court record did not reflect Erickson was properly served with the tribal court proceedings under the Tribal Code. “Without proper service on Erickson, a hearing should not have been held, and a permanent protection order should not have issued.” Further, because the record demonstrated that Erickson was notified of the protection order proceedings after a permanent protection order was already entered, it follows that she was not afforded reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard to satisfy 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2). “Although Erickson responded to Baker’s attorney’s email attaching exhibits, this email was sent to Erickson the day before the hearing. Further, the email did not contain any information that would have informed Erickson a hearing would be conducted the following day. We conclude this is insufficient to satisfy due process requirements.” Therefore, the district court erred in according full faith and credit to the tribal court restraining order. The district court order granting Erickson’s motion to vacate its previous order recognizing a tribal court restraining order was affirmed; however, insofar as the order granted full faith and credit to the tribal court restraining order, judgment was reversed. View "Baker v. Erickson" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant David Wells brutally assaulted his wife, V.W. A grand jury issued an indictment charging Wells with committing: (1) aggravated sexual abuse in “Indian country;” (2) assault with the intent to commit aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country; (3) assault resulting in serious bodily injury in Indian country; and (4) assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian country. After a petit jury convicted Wells on all four counts, the district court sentenced him to a lengthy term of incarceration. Wells appealed, challenging his convictions and sentence. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined none of Wells’s challenges to his conviction were meritorious. At sentencing, however, the district court erred in adjusting upward Wells’s total offense level on the basis Wells obstructed justice when he violated an order directing that he have no contact with V.W. The Tenth Circuit remanded the matter to the district court for the narrow purpose of vacating Wells’s sentence and conducting any further necessary proceeding with regard to the section 3C1.1 obstruction-of-justice adjustment. View "United States v. Wells" on Justia Law

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G.V. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating his parental rights as to his newborn daughter (E.V.) and selecting adoption as the permanent plan. He argued the court and the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to adequately inquire into the child’s Indian ancestry under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 SSA conceded there were two errors with respect to duties under ICWA, but they were harmless. Alternatively, SSA moved the Court of Appeal to receive additional new evidence (that was not previously presented to the juvenile court) that allegedly rendered the appeal moot, or at least demonstrated any inquiry errors as to ICWA had to be deemed harmless. The Court denied the motion, and found that under In re A.R., 77 Cal.App.5th 197 (2022), all cases where the ICWA inquiry rules were not followed mandated reversal. Judgment was conditionally reversed and the matter remanded for compliance with ICWA. View "In re E.V." on Justia Law

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Castro-Huerta was convicted of child neglect in Oklahoma state court. The Supreme Court subsequently held that the Creek Nation’s eastern Oklahoma reservation was never properly disestablished and remained “Indian country.” Castro-Huerta then argued that the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute him (a non-Indian) for a crime committed against his stepdaughter (Cherokee Indian) in Tulsa (Indian country). The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals vacated his conviction.The Supreme Court reversed. The federal government and the state have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed in Indian country unless preempted either under ordinary preemption principles, or when the exercise of state jurisdiction would unlawfully infringe on tribal self-government. Neither preempts state jurisdiction in this case.The General Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 1152, does not preempt state authority but simply “extend[s]” the federal laws applicable to federal enclaves to Indian country. The Act does not say that Indian country is equivalent to a federal enclave, that federal jurisdiction is exclusive in Indian country, or that state jurisdiction is preempted in Indian country. Public Law 280 affirmatively grants certain states broad jurisdiction to prosecute state-law offenses by or against Indians in Indian country, 18 U.S.C. 1162; 25 U.S.C. 1321, and does not otherwise preempt state jurisdiction.Employing a balancing test, the Court considered tribal, federal, and state interests to conclude that this exercise of state jurisdiction would not infringe on tribal self-government nor preclude an earlier or later federal prosecution. Oklahoma has a strong sovereign interest in ensuring public safety and criminal justice within its territory. Indian country is part of a state, not separate from it. View "Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta" on Justia Law