Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The case revolves around Kimberly Graham, who was convicted for first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. After her convictions became final, she applied for postconviction relief, arguing that she was a Native American and the events took place on a reservation. The state district court granted her relief and vacated her convictions based on the Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which stated that the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by Native Americans within a reservation. However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overruled the precedent that allowed for the application of McGirt to convictions that had already become final. Consequently, the state district court reinstated Graham's convictions.Graham then sought a writ of prohibition from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that a liberty interest had arisen from the order vacating her convictions. The court denied her request, stating that the new precedent prevented the application of McGirt to convictions that had become final and that the initial order vacating the convictions was unauthorized under Oklahoma law. Graham then sought habeas relief, claiming that the reinstatement of her convictions had arbitrarily stripped her of her liberty interest. The federal district court agreed with Graham and granted habeas relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of habeas relief. The court held that regardless of whether the state appeals court had erred, its rejection of the due process claim was at least reasonable based on the facts and Supreme Court precedent. The court concluded that the state appeals court did not unreasonably determine the facts or apply a Supreme Court holding. Therefore, the federal district court should have deferred to the state appeals court. View "Graham v. White" on Justia Law

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The case involves Douglas Smith, a non-Indian, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for an act he committed on his property located within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo of Santa Clara. Smith shot and killed Maria Gallegos, who he saw trying to break into a trailer on his property. Prior to trial, Smith moved to dismiss the case for lack of federal jurisdiction, arguing that the federal district court lacked criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed on his property and that Congress acted outside its constitutional authority when it passed the Indian Pueblo Land Act Amendments of 2005. The district court denied his motion.Smith's case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The appellate court had to decide whether federal criminal jurisdiction extends to land owned by a non-Indian within the exterior boundaries of a Pueblo. The court affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that Smith's property is Indian country under 18 U.S.C. § 1151, and therefore, his crime is subject to federal criminal jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1152.Smith also claimed that the 2005 Amendment is unconstitutional as applied to him. The court disagreed, holding that the 2005 Amendment did not unconstitutionally extend federal criminal jurisdiction to Smith's land. The court reasoned that the 2005 Amendment only exercised preexisting federal jurisdiction over Smith's land and was thus not an unconstitutional enactment as applied to Smith.Lastly, Smith contended that the district court erred in declining his request for a two-level sentence reduction for accepting responsibility for his crime. The appellate court found no clear error in the district court's determination, noting that Smith had challenged the factual element of intent at trial, which provided a clear basis to conclude that he did not accept responsibility. The court affirmed the district court's decision. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Patrick Murphy, was convicted of murder, murder in perpetration of kidnapping, and kidnapping resulting in death. The crimes occurred in 1999, but Murphy was not indicted until 2020, following a Supreme Court decision that clarified jurisdictional issues related to crimes committed in Indian Country. Murphy appealed his convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the kidnapping charges, that the prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, and that the nearly two-decade delay between the murder and the federal prosecution violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with Murphy's argument regarding the kidnapping charges. The court held that, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, it did not show that Murphy held the victim for an appreciable period of time, which is a requirement under the federal kidnapping statute. However, the court rejected Murphy's other two arguments. The court found that the statute of limitations did not bar the prosecution because the crimes with which Murphy was charged are, as a general matter, punishable by death and thus not subject to the general five-year statute of limitations for non-capital federal crimes. The court also found that Murphy failed to demonstrate that the twenty-year delay in bringing the federal prosecution against him violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.As a result, the court reversed Murphy's kidnapping-related convictions but affirmed his conviction for murder. The case was remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "United States v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Malinda Crazymule, was found to have violated her probation. The Sixteenth Judicial District Court, Rosebud County revoked her suspended sentence and ordered a four-year commitment to the Department of Corrections (DOC). The court gave Crazymule 130 days of street time and 21 days of jail time credit but denied credit for jail time served while Crazymule was in Northern Cheyenne Tribal custody. Crazymule appealed this denial.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the lower court's decision. The key issue was whether Crazymule was entitled to credit for the time served during her arrest warrant's issuance while she was in custody for tribal offenses. The Supreme Court found that the District Court erred in its interpretation of the relevant statutes.According to Section 46-18-203(7)(b), MCA, if a suspended or deferred sentence is revoked, the judge must allow credit for time served in a detention center. The Supreme Court emphasized that the language of this statute is not discretionary regarding awarding credit for time served. The court held that the District Court had jurisdiction over Crazymule once the arrest warrant was issued following the filing of the State’s revocation petition with the court, regardless of Crazymule's incarceration for a different offense.The Supreme Court concluded that Crazymule was entitled to credit from the date the revocation warrant was issued and she remained incarcerated in a detention center. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Crazymule" on Justia Law

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In this appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the defendant, Paul Curtis Pemberton, contested his federal conviction for a murder committed in McIntosh County, Oklahoma in 2004. The case was influenced by the Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), which confirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation covered a larger area of eastern Oklahoma than previously acknowledged by state and federal governments. This ruling impacted many crimes that had been prosecuted in state courts but were actually committed within tribal jurisdictions. Pemberton, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, argued that his crime fell within this category and should have been prosecuted in federal court under the Major Crimes Act.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that the state officers involved in Pemberton’s arrest and the subsequent collection of evidence had acted in good faith, based on the prevailing legal understanding at the time. The court noted that the officers could not have known that the Major Crimes Act barred state jurisdiction over the crime as the reservation boundaries were not clarified until the McGirt decision in 2020.The court also rejected Pemberton’s argument that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation during his sentencing. The court found that Pemberton's request to represent himself was made with the intention to delay the proceedings and was not related to the sentencing hearing. Therefore, the lower court's decision to deny his request was affirmed. View "United States v. Pemberton" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the defendant, Donavan Jay White Owl, appealed an order of the district court denying his motion to dismiss an indictment based on the Double Jeopardy Clause. White Owl had been indicted for felony murder and arson within Indian Country. A mistrial was declared during the initial trial after a dispute over White Owl’s access to information about a prosecution witness. White Owl argued that a new trial would violate his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution.The Appeals Court, however, ruled that White Owl had impliedly consented to the mistrial. The court noted that while the defendant did not expressly request a mistrial, his actions and responses during the proceedings indicated his implicit agreement. Specifically, when the district court declared its intention to declare a mistrial and asked the parties for their views, White Owl did not object but instead emphasized the need for more time to prepare for cross-examination of a prosecution witness.In light of this, the court concluded that White Owl's lack of objection amounted to implied consent to a mistrial. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order denying White Owl's motion to dismiss the indictment based on the Double Jeopardy Clause. View "United States v. Donavan White Owl" on Justia Law

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In this case, Mike Austin Anderson, the defendant, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and using a gun during a crime of violence. These charges stemmed from an incident that took place on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, where Anderson shot Julian McMillan after an argument. On appeal, Anderson contested that the district court erred in ruling that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for the jury to return guilty verdicts, despite the court's self-defense instruction. He also argued that the district court wrongly denied his pretrial motion to recuse the lead prosecutor and the entire United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi due to a conflict of interest. Anderson claimed that the lead prosecutor had previously represented him and his father while working as a public defender in Choctaw Tribal Court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the evidence against Anderson was sufficient and that the district court did not err in denying his recusal motion. The appellate court found no substantial relationship between the prosecutor's prior representation of Anderson and the current federal prosecution against him. View "USA v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Kenneth Walker appealed his conviction and sentence for assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. Walker lived "off and on" with his adult niece, Victoria Dirickson. Walker asked Dirickson for a set of house keys. She declined because “[i]t was [her] only day off, and [she] really didn’t feel like getting out and making a copy” of the keys. Walker became “[r]eally aggravated,” and an argument ensued in the living room, which lead to the assault charges at issue in this case. A grand jury indicted Walker on one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. The indictment alleged Walker was a non-Indian and Dirickson was Indian. A jury found Walker guilty as charged. On appeal, Walker: (1) challenged the district court's jurisdiction because it erred in admitting Dirickson's Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (“CDIB”) and tribal registration cards; (2) the district court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of a medical expert; (3) the district court abused its discretion in failing to give a unanimity-of-means jury instruction; (4) abused its discretion in failing to consider sentencing disparities arising from a possible sentence in a state case; and (5) Plainly erred in imposing an anger management condition of supervised release due to insufficient notice, and improper delegation of authority to the Probation Office. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Walker's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Defendant’s mother called local dispatch and said an officer needed to come by because her son was “acting up.” A Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer was dispatched to the home, learning on the way that Defendant had an active tribal arrest warrant. Defendant’s mother invited Defendant into the living room and told Defendant to join them. The officer told Defendant he was “going to have to take you because you got that warrant.” Defendant fled to the garage, pursued by the officer, where Defendant knocked the officer down and escaped. Defendant was charged with forcibly assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a federal officer and inflicting bodily injury. The jury convicted him of the lesser included offense of forcible assault of a federal officer involving physical contact. The district court sentenced Defendant to 44 months’ imprisonment. He appealed, raising numerous evidentiary issues and challenging the assessment of a two-level sentencing increase.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the amicable conversation -- dominated by Defendant-- occurred in his mother’s home, a non-custodial atmosphere. The officer testified he did not know what the warrant was based on. Defendant fled only after the officer later told him he would be arrested, confirming that Defendant initially believed or at least hoped that he could avoid immediate arrest. Further, the court explained that even if Defendant was in custody, follow-up questions to clarify ambiguity do not amount to “interrogation” unless “their point is to enhance the defendant’s guilt.” The court concluded the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. View "United States v. Jade LaRoche" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Michael David Jackson was convicted and sentenced for several offenses stemming from the sexual abuse of his young niece, including two counts of possession of child pornography. On appeal Jackson argued, and the government conceded, that the possession convictions were multiplicitous and violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. To this the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and therefore remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate one of these convictions. Jackson also challenged his sentence, contending: it was procedurally unreasonable because the application of several sentencing enhancements constituted impermissible double counting; and it was substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit noted the district court will have discretion to consider the entire sentencing package on remand. The Court rejected these challenges and concluded that the sentence imposed was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law