Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant Jeriah Budder, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, killed David Jumper in Indian Country. He was charged by the State of Oklahoma with first-degree manslaughter. THe charges were dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in the wake of McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S.Ct. 2452 (2020). A federal grand jury then indicted Defendant on three charges: (1) first-degree murder in Indian country; (2) carrying, using, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and (3) causing the death of another in the course of (2). On appeal, defendant argued he was denied the due process of law guaranteed by the federal constitution because the retroactive application of McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S.Ct. 2452 (2020) deprived him of Oklahoma’s law of self-defense, which he argued was broader than the defense available to him under federal law. The Tenth Circuit held that the application of McGirt did not constitute an impermissible retroactive application of a judicial decision. Further, the Court rejected defendant’s argument that his sentence was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Budder" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Shannon Kepler appealed his conviction for causing death by discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. Kepler and his wife Gina Kepler both worked as officers for the Tulsa Police Department. During the summer of 2014, the Keplers began to experience conflict with their 18-year-old adopted daughter, Lisa. Kepler gained access to Lisa’s Facebook account to monitor her activity. Eventually, the Keplers kicked Lisa out of their home and dropped her off at a homeless shelter. Kepler continued to monitor Lisa’s Facebook account and discovered she was dating a man named Jeremey Lake. Using police department resources, Kepler obtained Lake’s address, phone number, and physical description. On the same day he obtained this information, Kepler armed himself with his personal revolver and drove his SUV to Lake’s address. He spotted Lisa and Lake walking together near the residence. Kepler stopped the SUV in the middle of the road, rolled down the window, and called out to Lisa. Lisa refused to talk to him and walked away. Kepler exited the vehicle to follow her. At that point, Lake approached Kepler to introduce himself and shake his hand. Kepler drew his revolver. Lake tried to run away. Kepler shot him, once in the chest and once in the neck. Kepler then turned and fired shots in the direction of Lisa and Lake’s half-brother, M.H., who was 13 years old. Kepler then fled. Witnesses called 911. Paramedics arrived and declared Lake dead. Later that night, Kepler turned himself in to the Tulsa Police Department. At trial, Kepler admitted he shot Lake. He did not contend that he acted out of anger, provocation, or passion. Instead, he said he responded in self-defense to Lake’s threatening him with a chrome pistol. He entered into evidence the pistol discovered in a nearby trashcan and suggested that one of the witnesses took the pistol from Lake’s body and smuggled it into the police station. The jury rejected Kepler’s self-defense argument, leading to the conviction at issue here. Though Kepler argued second-degree murder was not a "crime of violence" and not a predicate offense for his conviction, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed Kepler's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Kepler" on Justia Law

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Craig Morrison and Amanda Walker brought Walker’s three-year-old son, R.T., to the emergency room and told doctors that R.T. had jumped off his bed and hit his head on his scooter. After examining R.T., doctors discovered bruising across most of R.T.’s body - injuries the doctors determined did not line up with Morrison’s and Walker’s story. The doctors contacted the police, who initiated a child abuse investigation, ultimately leading to a grand jury indictment of Morrison for two counts of child abuse, under the Assimilated Crimes Act, and of Walker for two counts of enabling child abuse, under the Assimilated Crimes Act. They were tried in a joint trial and the jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts. In separate sentencing proceedings, the district court granted the Government’s motions for upward variances from United States Sentencing Guidelines sentences for both Morrison and Walker. Morrison and Walker filed separate appeals, collectively raising ten challenges to their convictions and sentences. Because Morrison and Walker were tried in one trial, and each joined several of the other’s arguments on appeal. Determining none of their arguments were meritorious, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Morrison’s and Walker’s convictions and sentences. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kyle Sago appealed murder convictions committed in Indian country and causing death by use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (namely, first- or second-degree murder). The jury was instructed on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and self-defense. On appeal Sago argued the district court plainly erred in providing model jury instructions on first- and second-degree murder that inadequately defined the required element of malice. Specifically, he argued the instructions omitted the mitigation defense referred to as “imperfect self-defense:” the instructions were defective in that they failed to inform the jury that it could not find that Sago acted with malice unless it found that he was not acting in the sincere belief (even if the belief was unreasonable) that the use of deadly force was necessary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed: a mitigating circumstance instruction negates the malice element of first- and second-degree murder and must be accompanied by a lesser-included-offense instruction to inform the jury of the offense on which it could convict the defendant in light of the mitigating circumstance. And here, Sago did not request a relevant lesser-included-offense instruction for involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, the trial court did not err in declining to instruct on the mitigating circumstance. View "United States v. Sago" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Isaiah Redbird, a member of the Kiowa Nation, was convicted by jury of first-degree murder and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. On appeal. he argued the district court improperly admitted character evidence about his propensity for violence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(B). The Tenth Circuit found Redbird did not raise that specific objection at trial. Because Redbird did not argue plain error on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded he waived his evidentiary challenge and therefore affirm his convictions. View "United States v. Redbird" on Justia Law

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida (“Tribe”) and the State of Florida entered into a compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). That gaming compact (“Compact”) purported to permit the Tribe to offer online sports betting throughout the state. The Compact became effective when the Secretary of the Interior failed to either approve or disapprove it within 45 days of receiving it from the Tribe and Florida. The Plaintiffs, in this case, brick-and-mortar casinos in Florida, object to the Secretary’s decision to allow the Compact to go into effect because, in their view, it violated IGRA. They also believe that the Compact violates the Wire Act, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and the Fifth Amendment and that the Secretary was required to disapprove the Compact for those reasons as well. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion and granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs.   The DC Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for the Secretary. The court explained that IGRA does not prohibit a gaming compact—which is, at bottom, an agreement between a tribe and a state—from discussing other topics, including those governing activities “outside Indian lands.” Accordingly, the court explained that the district court erred by reading into the Compact a legal effect it does not (and cannot) have, namely, independently authorizing betting by patrons located outside of the Tribe’s lands. The court held only that the district erred by reading into the Compact a legal effect it does not (and cannot) have, namely, independently authorizing betting by patrons located outside of the Tribe’s lands. View "West Flagler Associates, Ltd. v. Debra Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized tribe in northwestern Wisconsin. In 2013 the Tribe’s Community Health Center hired Mestek as the Director of Health Information. In 2017 the Health Center implemented a new electronic health records system. Mestek soon raised questions about how the new system operated, expressing concern to management that the Center was improperly billing Medicare and Medicaid. An eventual external audit of the Center’s billing practices uncovered several problems. After receiving the audit results in 2018, Bae, the head of the Health Center, called Mestek into her office to ask if she was “loyal.” Mestek answered yes, but persisted in her efforts to uncover billing irregularities. A month later, Mestek learned that she was being fired in a meeting with the Medical Director and the HR Director. Mestek sued the Health Center and six individuals (in both their personal and official capacities) under the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision, 31 U.S.C. 3730(h). The district court dismissed.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity precluded Mestek from proceeding; the Health Center is an arm of the Tribe. The individual employee defendants also properly invoked the Tribe’s immunity because Mestek sued them in their official capacities. View "Mestek v. Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Justin Hooper and the City of Tulsa disputed whether the Curtis Act, 30 Stat. 495 (1898), granted Tulsa jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by all Tulsa’s inhabitants, including Indians, in Indian country. Tulsa issued a traffic citation to Hooper, an Indian and member of the Choctaw Nation, and he paid a $150 fine for the ticket in Tulsa’s Municipal Criminal Court. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Hooper filed an application for post-conviction relief, arguing the municipal court lacked jurisdiction over his offense because it was a crime committed by an Indian in Indian country. Tulsa countered that it had jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by its Indian inhabitants stemming from Section 14 of the Curtis Act. The municipal court agreed with Tulsa and denied Hooper’s application. Hooper then sought relief in federal court—filing a complaint: (1) appealing the denial of his application for post-conviction relief; and (2) seeking a declaratory judgment that Section 14 was inapplicable to Tulsa today. Tulsa moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion to dismiss Hooper’s declaratory judgment claim, agreeing with Tulsa that Congress granted the city jurisdiction over municipal violations by all its inhabitants, including Indians, through Section 14. Based on this determination, the district court dismissed Hooper’s appeal of the municipal court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief as moot. Hooper appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the federal district court erred in dismissing Hooper's declaratory judgment claim because even if the Curtis Act was never repealed, it was no longer applicable to Tulsa. The Court also agreed with Hooper that the district court erred in dismissing his appeal of the municipal court decision as moot based on its analysis of Section 14, but the Court determined the district court lacked jurisdiction over Hooper’s appeal from the municipal court. View "Hooper v. The City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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A constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and approved by the electorate in the 2020 general election made a number of changes governing the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC). Those changes included alterations to the selection, qualifications, and terms of Commission members, and revision to the PRC’s constitutionally assigned responsibilities. Petitioners were three nonprofit organizations who represented the rights of Native Americans. Petitioners asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to declare the ratification of the constitutional amendment a nullity and to issue a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee of the New Mexico Compilation Commission (Advisory Committee) to remove the amendment from the Constitution. The Advisory Committee responded that Petitioners’ challenge was untimely and improperly raised against the committee through a petition for writ of mandamus, but took no position on the merits. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was granted leave to intervene in these proceedings, joined the Advisory Committee’s timeliness arguments and additionally argued that the amendment was constitutional. After hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the petition was timely, but that the amendment did not violate Article XIX, Section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution. View "Indigenous Lifeways v. N.M. Compilation Comm'n Advisory Comm." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and obstruction of justice. On appeal, Defendant challenged several district court decisions that span from indictment through sentencing.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because both the stop and the search of the Pontiac were supported by probable cause, the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s suppression motion. Moreover, Defendant offered nothing to suggest the government violated that order by making use of the suppressed documents or information gleaned from them at trial. Accordingly, the court discerned no abuse of discretion in the remedy crafted by the district court. The court explained that under the facts of this case, Defendant has failed to show that Section 1503(a) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him.   Further, the court explained that the government also presented evidence that Defendant had knowledge of the firearm. The gun was recovered from inside a red drawstring bag in the Pontiac, and surveillance footage showed Defendant leaving a Walmart carrying the same distinctive red bag one hour before the Pontiac was stopped. Finally, the government presented evidence that Defendant, on occasion, traded methamphetamine for guns. Under these facts, a jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Milk knowingly possessed the firearm as charged. View "United States v. Wicahpe Milk" on Justia Law