Supreme Court rules against Navajo Nation member | Indigenous Rights News

The excessive court docket guidelines that Native People could be tried each in tribal and federal courts with out double jeopardy making use of.

America Supreme Courtroom dominated Monday that Native People prosecuted in sure tribal courts can be prosecuted primarily based on the identical incident in federal court docket, which can lead to longer sentences.

The 6-3 ruling is consistent with an earlier ruling from the Nineteen Seventies that mentioned the identical a couple of extra broadly used kind of tribal court docket.

The case earlier than the justices concerned a Navajo Nation member, Merle Denezpi, accused of rape. He served almost 5 months in jail after being charged with assault and battery in what is known as a Courtroom of Indian Offenses, a court docket that offers solely with alleged Native American offenders.

Below federal regulation Courts of Indian Offenses can solely impose sentences of usually as much as a 12 months. The person was later prosecuted in federal court docket and sentenced to 30 years in jail. He mentioned the Structure’s “Double Jeopardy” clause ought to have barred the second prosecution.

However the justices disagreed.

“Denezpi’s single act led to separate prosecutions for violations of a tribal ordinance and a federal statute. As a result of the Tribe and the Federal Authorities are distinct sovereigns, these offenses aren’t the identical,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for a majority of the court docket. “Denezpi’s second prosecution subsequently didn’t offend the Double Jeopardy Clause.”

The Biden administration had argued for that outcome as had a number of states, which mentioned barring federal prosecutions in related instances may permit defendants to flee harsh sentences.


The case earlier than the justices includes a tribal court docket system that has turn out to be more and more uncommon during the last century. Courts of Indian Offenses have been created within the late 1800s throughout a interval when the federal authorities’s coverage in direction of Native People was to encourage assimilation. Prosecutors are federal officers answerable to federal authorities, not tribal authorities.

Federal coverage in direction of Native People shifted within the mid-Thirties, nevertheless, to emphasise a larger respect for tribes’ native methods. As a part of that, the federal government has inspired tribes to create their very own tribal courts, and the variety of Courts of Indian Offenses has steadily decreased. As we speak there are 5 regional Courts of Indian Offenses that serve 16 tribes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. They’re usually tribes with a small variety of members or restricted sources. Nationwide there are greater than 570 federally acknowledged tribes.

The court docket mentioned in 1978 that the Double Jeopardy clause didn’t bar the federal authorities from prosecuting a Native particular person in federal court docket after a tribal court docket prosecution, so the one query for the court docket this time was whether or not the rule needs to be completely different for Courts of Indian Offenses.

In July 2017, Denezpi traveled with a feminine member of the Navajo Nation to Towaoc, Colorado, which is part of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. Whereas there, Denezpi raped the lady.

Denezpi was first charged in a Courtroom of Indian Offenses with assault and battery, amongst different issues. He ultimately agreed to a so-called Alford plea within the case, not admitting guilt however acknowledging that prosecutors had sufficient proof that he would probably be convicted at trial. He was sentenced to time served, 140 days in jail. His prosecution in federal court docket adopted.

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