Friday, July 24, 2015

Utah may not prosecute tribal members for crimes on land Tenth Circuit has held to be tribal; finality rules!

Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation v. State of Utah, 2015 WL 3705904 (6/16/15) (Ut.) (Published) - The 10th exalts finality and prevents Utah from prosecuting tribal members for conduct occurring on land the 10th Circuit had previously found to be within tribal boundaries. In a series of decisions the 10th had decided that the Uncompahgre reservation, the Uintah Valley Reservation and certain national forest areas were Indian country. Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court held in Hagen v. Utah, 510 U.S. 399 (1994), that the same congressional actions that the 10th had ruled did not diminish tribal territory did diminish at least a part of the Uintah Valley Reservation. The 10th recalled its mandate to modify its prior rulings to take account of that decision. The 10th refused to grant Utah's request to extend Hagen's logic to hold the Uncompahgre lands and national forest were diminished as well. The 10th stood by the finality principle, even if a different result might have been "more accurate" in light of Hagen. Utah refused to accept this holding. It started prosecuting tribal members on land the 10th had held to be Indian country. The tribe sought a federal court injunction to stop this. The 10th granted the injunction. The state's actions endangered tribal sovereignty. The arrests on rights-of-way running through Indian country were arrests in Indian country. That state officers may enter Indian lands to investigate off-reservation crimes does not give the state the authority to prosecute Indians in state court for crimes in Indian country. Public safety would not be endangered by an injunction, the 10th rules, because the state officers could still patrol the rights of way and stop motorists suspected of traffic offenses. They just couldn't prosecute the drivers if they are tribal members. The 10th may stop a state prosecution when effectuating a previous federal judgment. The 10th sums up: "A system of law that places any value on finality---as any system of law worth its salt must---cannot allow intransigent litigants to challenge settled decisions year after year, decade after decade, until they wear everyone else out." The 10th closes with a warning that Utah would be subject to sanctions if it persists in ignoring 10th precedent.