Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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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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congressional mandate to compensate the Wyandotte Tribe for its loss of millions of acres in the Ohio River Valley morphed into a thirty-year dispute over ten acres in a Wichita, Kansas suburb. In 1992, eight years after Congress’s enacted remedy, the Tribe used $25,000 of that compensation to buy a ten-acre lot in Kansas called the Park City Parcel. The next year, the Tribe applied for trust status on the Park City Parcel under Congress’s 1984 enactment, but the Secretary of the Interior denied the application. The Tribe tried again in 2008, reapplying for trust status on the Park City Parcel to set up gaming operations. Since then, the State of Kansas opposed the Tribe’s efforts to conduct gaming on the Parcel. The State disputed the Tribe’s claim that its purchase came from the allocated $100,000 in congressional funds. And the State argued that no exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) authorized the Tribe to operate gaming on the lot. In 2020, the Secretary rejected the State’s arguments, approving the Tribe’s trust application and ruling that the Tribe could conduct gaming operations on the Park City Parcel. The district court agreed. And so did the Tenth Circuit. The Court affirmed the ruling that the Secretary was statutorily bound to take the Park City Parcel into trust and to allow a gaming operation there under IGRA’s settlement-of-a-land-claim exception. View "Kansas ex rel Kobach, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al." 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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The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2011, defendant-appellant Joshua Slinkard pleaded guilty in Oklahoma state court to child sex abuse, lewd molestation, and possession of child pornography. The state court sentenced him to 30 years in prison. But in May 2021 the State vacated Slinkard’s conviction for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020). Slinkard was then indicted in federal district court on two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor in Indian country, and one count of possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty on all three counts without the benefit of a plea bargain. After adopting the factual recitations of the PSR and confirming Slinkard’s advisory guideline sentence, the district court recited the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and offered defense counsel the opportunity to be heard on the application of those factors in Slinkard’s case. Defense counsel asked the court to consider an oral motion for a downward variance based in part on Slinkard having already served 12 years in state prison. The government requested a life sentence. The court stated it would not vary from the advisory guideline for sentencing. The court then asked Slinkard if he wished to make a statement, but he declined. After the government made a statement on behalf of the victim, the court imposed a sentence of two terms of life in prison and one term of 240 months, all to run concurrently. In his single issue on appeal, Slinkard contended the district court plainly erred when it conclusively announced his sentence before permitting him to allocute. To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred: the court’s pre-allocution statement was a definitive announcement of sentence, in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(i)(4)(A)(ii) and Tenth Circuit precedent. The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slinkard" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Conner Polk appealed his four-year prison sentence under the Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), 18 U.S.C. § 13, for committing a state-law offense on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. Polk argued the district court should have considered imposing a shorter prison term under an Oklahoma statute that permitted a departure from a mandatory minimum sentence in certain circumstances. Because this state law conflicted with federal sentencing policy, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court properly declined to apply it. The Court, therefore, affirmed Polk’s sentence. View "United States v. Polk" on Justia Law

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The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS) entered into a contract under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act for the Tribe to operate a federal healthcare program. Under the contract, the Tribe provided healthcare services to Indians and other eligible beneficiaries. In exchange, the Tribe was entitled to receive reimbursements from IHS for certain categories of expenditures, including “contract support costs.” The contract anticipates that the Tribe will bill third-party insurers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The Tribe contended that overhead costs associated with setting up and administering this third-party billing infrastructure, as well as the administrative costs associated with recirculating the third-party revenue it received, qualified as reimbursable contract support costs under the Self-Determination Act and the Tribe’s agreement with the IHS. But when the Tribe attempted to collect those reimbursements, IHS disagreed and refused to pay. Contending it had been shortchanged, the Tribe sued the government. The district court, agreeing with the government’s reading of the Self-Determination Act and the contract, granted the government’s motion to dismiss. A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reverse (for different reasons). Under either of the jurists' interpretations, the administrative expenditures associated with collecting and expending revenue obtained from third-party insurers qualified as reimbursable contract support costs. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Delila Pacheco was convicted in Oklahoma of first-degree child-abuse murder. She petitioned for relief to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, filing an application under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. While her application was pending, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Murphy v. Royal, 875 F.3d 896 (10th Cir. 2017), holding that a large portion of the State of Oklahoma was “Indian country” for purposes of the Major Crimes Act, which provided for exclusive federal jurisdiction over certain enumerated crimes committed by Indians in “Indian country.” Pacheco, an Indian found to have committed a serious crime at a location since determined to be on an Indian reservation, sought to amend her application to assert a claim that the state courts lacked jurisdiction over the offense. The district court denied the request to amend on the ground that the new claim was time-barred. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on this issue. Pacheco argued on appeal: (1) that the time bar to her jurisdictional claim should be excused under the actual-innocence exception; and, alternatively, (2) that the statute of limitations reset when the Supreme Court declared the underlying law in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), rendering timely her request to amend. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding Pacheco’s jurisdictional argument did not show actual innocence, and McGirt did not announce a new constitutional right. View "Pacheco v. El Habti" 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