United States v. Bryant

Enacted in response to the high incidence of domestic violence against Native American women, 18 U.S.C. 117(a), applies to any person who “commits a domestic assault within . . . Indian country” and who has at least two prior convictions for domestic violence rendered “in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.” The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants appointed counsel in state or federal proceedings in which a term of imprisonment is imposed, but does not apply in tribal-court proceedings. The Indian Civil Rights Act, (ICRA) which governs tribal-court proceedings, includes a right to appointed counsel only for sentences exceeding one year, 25 U.S.C. 1302(c)(2). Supreme Court precedent holds that convictions obtained in state or federal court in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel cannot be used in subsequent proceedings “to support guilt or enhance punishment for another offense” except for uncounseled misdemeanor convictions for which no prison term was imposed. The Ninth Circuit reversed Bryant’s section 117(a) conviction, finding that the Sixth Amendment precluded use of his prior, uncounseled, tribal-court convictions a predicate offenses. The Supreme Court reversed. Because Bryant’s tribal-court convictions complied with ICRA and were valid when entered, use of those convictions as predicate offenses in a section 117(a) prosecution does not violate the Constitution. Bryant’s sentence for violating section 117(a) punishes his most recent acts of domestic assault, not his prior crimes. He suffered no Sixth Amendment violation in tribal court, so he cannot “suffe[r] anew” from a prior deprivation. ICRA sufficiently ensures the reliability of tribal-court convictions, guaranteeing “due process of law,” providing other procedural safeguards, and allowing a prisoner to challenge the fundamental fairness of proceedings in federal habeas proceedings. View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law