Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Defendant was convicted of one count of arson for setting fire to his home on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Defendant appealed the restitution order contending that the district court erred in awarding restitution to the two organizations that had provided emergency funds to the victims without reducing the amount of restitution owed to the victims personally. Defendant also contended that the district court further erred in using the replacement cost to determine the value of the homeowner's loss. The court held that the district court erred in awarding full restitution to the family for their personal property losses while also awarding restitution to the Red Cross and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the amount of funds each provided to the family. The court also held that the district court erred in calculating Sicangu Wicoti Awanyakapi Corporation's actual loss to be the replacement cost of the destroyed home and in failing to account for its retention of defendant's Monthly Equity Payment Account. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Frazier" on Justia Law

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The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Band) sued the the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Revenue (Commissioner) to prevent taxation of the out-of-state pension income of Band members. The state taxed a Band member's pension earned in Ohio but received on a reservation. The Band argued that the taxation violated due process and was preempted by federal law. The court held that because citizenship provided a constitutional nexus, Minnesota's taxation complied with due process. The court also held that Minnesota's taxation was not preempted where the case was controlled by the general rule: "Absent express federal law to the contrary, Indians going beyond reservation boundaries have generally been held subject to non-discriminatory state law otherwise applicable to all citizens of the state." Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Fond Du Lac Band v. Frans" on Justia Law

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At a tribal housing complex in Peever, South Dakota, defendant stabbed two men, killing one. Defendant was subsequently convicted of first degree murder and aggravated assault and sentenced to life imprisonment. At issue was whether the district court properly denied defendant's petition for writ of habeas corpus where he challenged the state's jurisdiction to try him. The court held that the district court properly denied habeas corpus relief where the housing complex's land did not meet the Alaska v. Native Vill. of Venetie Tribal Gov't. test of being a "dependent Indian community." View "Owen v. Weber" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged for the offense of domestic assault by a habitual offender under 18 U.S.C. 117 and the district court dismissed the indictment because, although defendant had received prior misdemeanor abuse convictions in tribal court on three separate occasions, he had not received the benefit of appointed counsel in the proceedings that resulted in the convictions. At issue was whether the Fifth and Sixth Amendments precluded the use of these prior tribal court misdemeanor convictions as predicate convictions to establish the habitual offender elements of section 117. The court noted an apparent inconsistency in several cases dealing with the use of arguably infirm prior judgments to establish guilt, trigger a sentencing enhancement, or determine a sentence for a subsequent offense. The court held that the predicate convictions in this case, valid at their inception, and not alleged to be otherwise unreliable, could be used to prove the elements of section 117. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Cavanaugh, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant fired a rifle shot through the front grill of a government owned pickup truck in the custody of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) land assessor. After the court vacated his initial conviction of depredation of government property, a second jury found him guilty of the same charge, and the district court sentenced him to 36 months imprisonment, applying a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice because he perjured himself during his trial testimony. Defendant raised several issues on appeal. The court held that a retrial was entirely consistent with its mandate of its opinion vacating his first conviction; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for recusal; defendant suffered no prejudice from the challenged jury instruction and any error in the instruction was harmless; the district court's application of the enhancement was affirmed; and the term of imprisonment was affirmed. The court held, however, that special conditions 1, 2, and 5 were vacated where, because there was a complete lack of explanation for imposition of the condition, the error also substantially affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "United States v. Wisecarver" on Justia Law

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Appellant, the finance officer for the Standing Rock Housing Authority of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, pleaded guilty to theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 120 months imprisonment. At issue was whether the district court committed procedural error when it departed upwards from the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range, U.S.S.G. 4A1.3, and when it considered ethnicity and other improper factors during sentencing. Also at issue was whether the sentencing was substantively unreasonable. The court held that the district court did not engage in impermissible double counting by departing upwards to criminal history category IV where the district court discussed the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of appellant, the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities between similar defendants, and the need to provide restitution for the victims. The court also held that the sentence was substantively reasonable where any comments regarding race or national origin were not offered as an explanation for imposing sentence but reflected the district court's disagreement with appellant's counsel that the Guidelines were "fair" and that a Guidelines sentence of 70 to 87 months imprisonment was appropriate as a matter of law; where the district court's statements expressed its frustration about its inability to order restitution for an amount closer to the total loss of money rather than a comment on appellant's socio-economic status; and where the district court did not use appellant's lack of an addiction to justify the sentence, but rather to describe his state of mind as he carried out the embezzlement scheme.

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Appellant, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, pled guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country in violation of 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(3) and 1153 and was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment followed by 3 years supervised release. At issue was whether the government failed to establish compliance with Articles I and V of the Fort Laramie Treaty, 15 Stat. 635, between the United States and different Tribes of Sioux Indians which deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over his case. The court affirmed the judgment and held that even if Articles I and V of the treaty could reasonably be construed as establishing a jurisdictional requirement at the time the treaty was executed, Congress's subsequent grant of citizenship to the Indians makes them subject to all restrictions to which any citizen was subject and was evidence of clear indication to abrogate any contrary treat provisions.