Supreme Court ruling on members of Navajo Nation


Washington (AP) —The Supreme Court said on Monday that Native Americans indicted in certain tribal courts could also be indicted under the same case in federal court, resulting in a longer sentence. Judgment was made.

The 6-3 ruling is consistent with previous rulings from the 1970s that said the same thing about the more widely used types of tribal courts.

The case before the judge involved Merle Denespi, a member of Navajo Nation accused of rape. He was sentenced to about five months in prison after being charged with assault and assault in the so-called Indian Crimes Court, a court that deals only with alleged Native American criminals.

Under federal law, Indian criminal courts can usually impose up to one year’s sentence. The man was later charged in federal court and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He said the “double geopardy” clause of the Constitution should have prohibited a second prosecution.

But the judge disagreed.

“Denezpi’s single act led to separate prosecutions for violations of tribal ordinances and federal law. These crimes are not the same because the tribes and the federal government are separate sovereigns. Judge Amy Connie Barrett wrote in a majority of the courts: “Therefore, Denezpi’s second indictment did not offend the Double Jeopardy clause.”

The Biden administration, like some states, has claimed the consequences, saying that banning federal prosecution in similar cases would save defendants from harsh judgments.

Cases before the judge include a tribal court system that has become increasingly rare over the last century. The Indian Crimes Court was created in the late 1800s during a period when the federal government’s policy towards Native Americans was to encourage assimilation. Prosecutors are federal police officers who are responsible to federal authorities, not tribal authorities.

However, federal policy towards Native Americans shifted in the mid-1930s to emphasize greater respect for the practices of tribal indigenous peoples. As part of this, the government is encouraging tribes to establish their own tribal courts, and the number of criminal courts in India is steadily declining. There are currently five district courts servicing 16 tribes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. They are generally tribes with a small number of members or limited resources.Located all over the country More than 570 federal-recognized tribes..

The only question in this court was the rule in an Indian court, as the court stated in 1978 that the Double Jeopardy clause did not prohibit the federal government from prosecuting indigenous peoples in federal court after the tribal court’s indictment. It was whether it should be changed. crime.

In July 2017, Denezpi traveled with a female member of Navajo Nation to Towaok, Colorado, which is part of the Ute Mountains Ute Reservation. While there, Denezpi raped a woman.

Denezpi was first charged in an Indian criminal court, especially for assault and assault. He finally agreed to the so-called Plea of ​​Alford in this case and did not plead guilty, but the prosecutor had sufficient evidence that he was likely to be convicted in court. Was admitted. He was sentenced to 140 days in prison. His charges in federal court continued.