Here is the petition:
Section 117(a) of Title 18, United States Code, makes it a federal crime for any person to “commit a domestic assault within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or Indian country” if the person “has a final conviction on at least 2 separate prior occasions in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings for” enumerated domestic-violence offenses. 18 U.S.C. 117(a).
Here is the opinion in United States v. Bryant.
From the court’s syllabus:
The panel reversed the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss an indictment charging the defendant, an Indian, with two counts of domestic assault by a habitual offender, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 117(a).
Applying United States v. Ant, 882 F.2d 1389 (9th Cir. 1989), the panel held that, subject to the narrow exception recognized in case law for statutes that serve merely as enforcement mechanisms for civil disabilities, tribal court convictions may be used in subsequent prosecutions only if the tribal court guarantees a right to counsel that is, at minimum, coextensive with the Sixth Amendment right. Because the defendant’s tribal court domestic abuse convictions would have violated the Sixth Amendment had they been obtained in federal or state court, the panel concluded that it is constitutionally impermissible to use them to establish an element of the offense in a subsequent prosecution under § 117(a), which is an ordinary recidivist statute and not a criminal enforcement scheme for a civil disability.
Concurring, Judge Watford wrote separately to highlight
why Ant warrants reexamination.
Judge Watford correctly notes that a circuit split on this issue has arisen with the Eighth and Tenth Circuits:
It’s perhaps unsurprising that our decision in this case conflicts with decisions from two of our sister circuits. Faced with almost identical scenarios—prior, uncounseled tribal court convictions that would have violated the Sixth Amendment in state or federal court and that were used as predicate offenses under 18 U.S.C. § 117—the Eighth and Tenth Circuits pointedly disagreed with us. See United States v. Cavanaugh, 643 F.3d 592, 595, 604 (8th Cir. 2011); United States v. Shavanaux, 647 F.3d 993, 995–98 (10th Cir. 2011). As our colleagues on the Eighth Circuit noted, “Supreme Court authority in this area is unclear; reasonable decisionmakers may differ in their conclusions as to whether the Sixth Amendment precludes a federal court’s subsequent use of convictions that are valid because and only because they arose in a court where the Sixth Amendment did not apply.” Cavanaugh, 643 F.3d at 605. Given this circuit split and the lack of clarity in this area of Sixth Amendment law, the Supreme Court’s intervention seems warranted.
If nothing else, the case at least may generate support for en banc review. We posted materials on these two cases here (the Supreme Court denied cert). I wrote about this issue a few years ago in a paper titled “Sovereign Comity.“
Here are the briefs:
Here is the abstract:
Tribal courts tasked with the prosecution of Native American defendants are not constrained by many Constitutional provisions, including the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal proceedings. Currently, the Indian Civil Rights Act only requires representation in tribal court prosecutions of indigent defendants that may lead to incarceration of more than one year. State and federal courts require the opportunity of representation for all defendants in criminal proceedings. This discrepancy between the rights afforded in tribal courts and in state and federal courts lead to unique legal issues for Native American defendants indicted in federal court after being convicted without counsel in a tribal court.
Native Americans prosecuted under federal re-peat-offender statues could be exposed to harsher penalties based on prior uncounseled tribal con-victions. Thus, even if a Native American lacked representation in tribal court, those convictions might be used as predicate offenses for the purposes of federal repeat-offender laws. Different approaches to this issue are presented from the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits. This Note ad-dresses the reasoning of each Circuit and offers a Recommendation that balances tribal sovereignty concerns, Sixth Amendment ramifications, and justice implications for both victims and defendants in the tribal court system.
For American Indians, living nearly invisible lives on archipelagos of native culture, irrational Republican philosophy has been particularly cruel. There are more than 300 reservations throughout the land — nations within a nation, sovereign to a point.
Non-Indians are responsible for most of the domestic violence in Indian country. The tribes can’t prosecute them — without the blessing of Congress — and the distant and detached feds usually won’t. Thus, the need for the change written into the renewed Violence Against Women law.
“We have serial rapists on the reservation,” Charon Asetoyer, a Native rights health advocate in South Dakota, has pointed out, “because they know they can get away with it.”
Oh, but bringing these brutes to justice in the jurisdictions where they commit their crimes would be unconstitutional, says Representative Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader. A jury of Indians, well — they’re incapable of giving a white man a fair trial. Such was the view expressed by Senator Charles Grassley, the mumble-voiced Iowa senator known for his 19th-century insight.
Both men voted against the act, and both are flat-out wrong in their interpretation. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused a right to a jury trial in “the state or district” where the crime was committed. It says nothing about ethnicity. The latest census found that almost half of people living on reservations were non-Indians. And more than half of Indian women are married to men who are not tribal members by blood.
Christiana M. Martenson has published “Uncounseled Tribal Court Guilty Pleas in State and Federal Courts: Individual Rights Versus Tribal Self-Governance” (PDF) in the Michigan Law Review. Here is the abstract:
Indian tribes in the United States are separate sovereigns with inherent self-governing authority. As a result, the Bill of Rights does not directly bind the tribes, and criminal defendants in tribal courts do not enjoy the protection of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. In United States v. Ant, a defendant—without the legal assistance that a state or federal court would have provided—pled guilty to criminal charges in tribal court. Subsequently, the defendant faced federal charges arising out of the same events that led to the tribal prosecution. The Ninth Circuit in Ant barred the federal prosecutor from using the defendant’s prior uncounseled tribal court guilty plea as evidence in the federal proceeding, explaining that doing so would violate the Sixth Amendment. This Note argues that Ant is no longer good law. First, Ant’s legal foundation is weak, especially in light of subsequent developments in Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. Second, Ant is poor policy because excluding tribal court guilty pleas from state and federal proceedings undermines tribal self-governance. Even though governments must protect the rights of individual criminal defendants, supporting tribal authority will ultimately lead to decreased violence on Indian land and increased consistency with federal legislation.