Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
by
The case revolves around Kimberly Graham, who was convicted for first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. After her convictions became final, she applied for postconviction relief, arguing that she was a Native American and the events took place on a reservation. The state district court granted her relief and vacated her convictions based on the Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which stated that the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by Native Americans within a reservation. However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overruled the precedent that allowed for the application of McGirt to convictions that had already become final. Consequently, the state district court reinstated Graham's convictions.Graham then sought a writ of prohibition from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that a liberty interest had arisen from the order vacating her convictions. The court denied her request, stating that the new precedent prevented the application of McGirt to convictions that had become final and that the initial order vacating the convictions was unauthorized under Oklahoma law. Graham then sought habeas relief, claiming that the reinstatement of her convictions had arbitrarily stripped her of her liberty interest. The federal district court agreed with Graham and granted habeas relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of habeas relief. The court held that regardless of whether the state appeals court had erred, its rejection of the due process claim was at least reasonable based on the facts and Supreme Court precedent. The court concluded that the state appeals court did not unreasonably determine the facts or apply a Supreme Court holding. Therefore, the federal district court should have deferred to the state appeals court. View "Graham v. White" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Douglas Smith, a non-Indian, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for an act he committed on his property located within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo of Santa Clara. Smith shot and killed Maria Gallegos, who he saw trying to break into a trailer on his property. Prior to trial, Smith moved to dismiss the case for lack of federal jurisdiction, arguing that the federal district court lacked criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed on his property and that Congress acted outside its constitutional authority when it passed the Indian Pueblo Land Act Amendments of 2005. The district court denied his motion.Smith's case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The appellate court had to decide whether federal criminal jurisdiction extends to land owned by a non-Indian within the exterior boundaries of a Pueblo. The court affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that Smith's property is Indian country under 18 U.S.C. § 1151, and therefore, his crime is subject to federal criminal jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1152.Smith also claimed that the 2005 Amendment is unconstitutional as applied to him. The court disagreed, holding that the 2005 Amendment did not unconstitutionally extend federal criminal jurisdiction to Smith's land. The court reasoned that the 2005 Amendment only exercised preexisting federal jurisdiction over Smith's land and was thus not an unconstitutional enactment as applied to Smith.Lastly, Smith contended that the district court erred in declining his request for a two-level sentence reduction for accepting responsibility for his crime. The appellate court found no clear error in the district court's determination, noting that Smith had challenged the factual element of intent at trial, which provided a clear basis to conclude that he did not accept responsibility. The court affirmed the district court's decision. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the defendant, Patrick Murphy, was convicted of murder, murder in perpetration of kidnapping, and kidnapping resulting in death. The crimes occurred in 1999, but Murphy was not indicted until 2020, following a Supreme Court decision that clarified jurisdictional issues related to crimes committed in Indian Country. Murphy appealed his convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the kidnapping charges, that the prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, and that the nearly two-decade delay between the murder and the federal prosecution violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with Murphy's argument regarding the kidnapping charges. The court held that, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, it did not show that Murphy held the victim for an appreciable period of time, which is a requirement under the federal kidnapping statute. However, the court rejected Murphy's other two arguments. The court found that the statute of limitations did not bar the prosecution because the crimes with which Murphy was charged are, as a general matter, punishable by death and thus not subject to the general five-year statute of limitations for non-capital federal crimes. The court also found that Murphy failed to demonstrate that the twenty-year delay in bringing the federal prosecution against him violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.As a result, the court reversed Murphy's kidnapping-related convictions but affirmed his conviction for murder. The case was remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "United States v. Murphy" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the defendant, Paul Curtis Pemberton, contested his federal conviction for a murder committed in McIntosh County, Oklahoma in 2004. The case was influenced by the Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), which confirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation covered a larger area of eastern Oklahoma than previously acknowledged by state and federal governments. This ruling impacted many crimes that had been prosecuted in state courts but were actually committed within tribal jurisdictions. Pemberton, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, argued that his crime fell within this category and should have been prosecuted in federal court under the Major Crimes Act.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that the state officers involved in Pemberton’s arrest and the subsequent collection of evidence had acted in good faith, based on the prevailing legal understanding at the time. The court noted that the officers could not have known that the Major Crimes Act barred state jurisdiction over the crime as the reservation boundaries were not clarified until the McGirt decision in 2020.The court also rejected Pemberton’s argument that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation during his sentencing. The court found that Pemberton's request to represent himself was made with the intention to delay the proceedings and was not related to the sentencing hearing. Therefore, the lower court's decision to deny his request was affirmed. View "United States v. Pemberton" on Justia Law

by
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the conviction of Montelito Simpkins for sexually abusing a minor and engaging in abusive sexual contact in Indian country. The government charged Simpkins under the Indian Country Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1152, which only applies if either the victim or the defendant, but not both, is an Indian. In this case, Simpkins argued that the government provided insufficient evidence to prove that he was not an Indian, an essential element required for a conviction under the Act. The court clarified that a sufficiency challenge must be assessed against the legal elements of the crime, not against the elements listed in the jury instructions. The government conceded it had offered no evidence of Simpkins’s non-Indian status at trial. Therefore, the court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove Simpkins’s non-Indian status, reversed his convictions, and remanded the case to the district court to enter a judgment of acquittal. View "United States v. Simpkins" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Kenneth Walker appealed his conviction and sentence for assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. Walker lived "off and on" with his adult niece, Victoria Dirickson. Walker asked Dirickson for a set of house keys. She declined because “[i]t was [her] only day off, and [she] really didn’t feel like getting out and making a copy” of the keys. Walker became “[r]eally aggravated,” and an argument ensued in the living room, which lead to the assault charges at issue in this case. A grand jury indicted Walker on one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury within Indian country. The indictment alleged Walker was a non-Indian and Dirickson was Indian. A jury found Walker guilty as charged. On appeal, Walker: (1) challenged the district court's jurisdiction because it erred in admitting Dirickson's Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (“CDIB”) and tribal registration cards; (2) the district court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of a medical expert; (3) the district court abused its discretion in failing to give a unanimity-of-means jury instruction; (4) abused its discretion in failing to consider sentencing disparities arising from a possible sentence in a state case; and (5) Plainly erred in imposing an anger management condition of supervised release due to insufficient notice, and improper delegation of authority to the Probation Office. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Walker's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Michael David Jackson was convicted and sentenced for several offenses stemming from the sexual abuse of his young niece, including two counts of possession of child pornography. On appeal Jackson argued, and the government conceded, that the possession convictions were multiplicitous and violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. To this the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and therefore remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate one of these convictions. Jackson also challenged his sentence, contending: it was procedurally unreasonable because the application of several sentencing enhancements constituted impermissible double counting; and it was substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit noted the district court will have discretion to consider the entire sentencing package on remand. The Court rejected these challenges and concluded that the sentence imposed was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

by
A district court conducted two hours of voir dire in a courtroom closed to the public and broadcasted live over an audio feed. After Defendant Quentin Veneno, Jr. objected, the district court concluded that the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic justified its closure of the courtroom, but also provided a video feed for the rest of trial. Although Defendant objected to the initial audio-only feed after the initial two hours of voir dire, he never requested that the district court restart jury selection or moved for a mistrial. Defendant appealed both his conviction and challenged Congress’s constitutional authority to criminalize the conduct of Indians on tribal land, whether a previous conviction can be a predicate offense for 18 U.S.C. § 117(a)(1) convictions, and whether admission of other-act evidence met the rigors of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Veneno" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Diamond Britt was convicted of first-degree murder in Indian Country, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Britt appealed, arguing, in pertinent part, that the district court erred by refusing his counsel’s request to instruct the jury on the theory of imperfect self-defense. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Britt that the district court erred in this regard. Consequently, the Court remanded the case to the district court with directions to vacate the judgment and conduct a new trial. View "United States v. Britt" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Edmond Warrington was charged in Oklahoma state court after he engaged in sexual activity with his mentally disabled, 18-year-old adopted niece. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), the federal government took over prosecution for the alleged sexual abuse. The district court denied a motion to suppress inculpatory statements Warrington made to federal agents during transport from state to federal custody. Warrington proceeded to trial, where he was convicted by a jury of three counts of sexual abuse in Indian Country and sentenced to 144 months’ imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently. The court also imposed a $15,000 special assessment under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (“JVTA”), a penalty of $5,000 for each count of conviction. On appeal, Warrington argued: (1) the district court erred in denying his suppression motion because the agents questioned him in violation of the Sixth Amendment; and (2) the court plainly erred in imposing the JVTA assessment on a per count basis instead of imposing one $5,000 penalty in the case. The Tenth Circuit concluded the Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not yet attached in the federal proceeding and, in any event, Warrington voluntarily waived his right to counsel after receiving a Miranda warning, therefore, the district court did not err in denying the motion to suppress. Warrington’s second issue raised was an issue of first impression for the Tenth Circuit, and the Court concluded the trial court did not commit plain error. View "United States v. Warrington" on Justia Law