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

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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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

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Defendant Jeriah Budder, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, killed David Jumper in Indian Country. He was charged by the State of Oklahoma with first-degree manslaughter. THe charges were dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in the wake of McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S.Ct. 2452 (2020). A federal grand jury then indicted Defendant on three charges: (1) first-degree murder in Indian country; (2) carrying, using, brandishing and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and (3) causing the death of another in the course of (2). On appeal, defendant argued he was denied the due process of law guaranteed by the federal constitution because the retroactive application of McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S.Ct. 2452 (2020) deprived him of Oklahoma’s law of self-defense, which he argued was broader than the defense available to him under federal law. The Tenth Circuit held that the application of McGirt did not constitute an impermissible retroactive application of a judicial decision. Further, the Court rejected defendant’s argument that his sentence was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Budder" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Shannon Kepler appealed his conviction for causing death by discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. Kepler and his wife Gina Kepler both worked as officers for the Tulsa Police Department. During the summer of 2014, the Keplers began to experience conflict with their 18-year-old adopted daughter, Lisa. Kepler gained access to Lisa’s Facebook account to monitor her activity. Eventually, the Keplers kicked Lisa out of their home and dropped her off at a homeless shelter. Kepler continued to monitor Lisa’s Facebook account and discovered she was dating a man named Jeremey Lake. Using police department resources, Kepler obtained Lake’s address, phone number, and physical description. On the same day he obtained this information, Kepler armed himself with his personal revolver and drove his SUV to Lake’s address. He spotted Lisa and Lake walking together near the residence. Kepler stopped the SUV in the middle of the road, rolled down the window, and called out to Lisa. Lisa refused to talk to him and walked away. Kepler exited the vehicle to follow her. At that point, Lake approached Kepler to introduce himself and shake his hand. Kepler drew his revolver. Lake tried to run away. Kepler shot him, once in the chest and once in the neck. Kepler then turned and fired shots in the direction of Lisa and Lake’s half-brother, M.H., who was 13 years old. Kepler then fled. Witnesses called 911. Paramedics arrived and declared Lake dead. Later that night, Kepler turned himself in to the Tulsa Police Department. At trial, Kepler admitted he shot Lake. He did not contend that he acted out of anger, provocation, or passion. Instead, he said he responded in self-defense to Lake’s threatening him with a chrome pistol. He entered into evidence the pistol discovered in a nearby trashcan and suggested that one of the witnesses took the pistol from Lake’s body and smuggled it into the police station. The jury rejected Kepler’s self-defense argument, leading to the conviction at issue here. Though Kepler argued second-degree murder was not a "crime of violence" and not a predicate offense for his conviction, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed Kepler's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Kepler" on Justia Law

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Craig Morrison and Amanda Walker brought Walker’s three-year-old son, R.T., to the emergency room and told doctors that R.T. had jumped off his bed and hit his head on his scooter. After examining R.T., doctors discovered bruising across most of R.T.’s body - injuries the doctors determined did not line up with Morrison’s and Walker’s story. The doctors contacted the police, who initiated a child abuse investigation, ultimately leading to a grand jury indictment of Morrison for two counts of child abuse, under the Assimilated Crimes Act, and of Walker for two counts of enabling child abuse, under the Assimilated Crimes Act. They were tried in a joint trial and the jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts. In separate sentencing proceedings, the district court granted the Government’s motions for upward variances from United States Sentencing Guidelines sentences for both Morrison and Walker. Morrison and Walker filed separate appeals, collectively raising ten challenges to their convictions and sentences. Because Morrison and Walker were tried in one trial, and each joined several of the other’s arguments on appeal. Determining none of their arguments were meritorious, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Morrison’s and Walker’s convictions and sentences. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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In 1992, the Crow Tribe brought a declaratory action against Wyoming Game and Fish officials to determine whether the 1868 Treaty with the Crows afforded it an unrestricted right to hunt in the Bighorn National Forest. Relying on a line of prior Supreme Court cases interpreting Indian treaties, the federal district court in Wyoming held in Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis I), 866 F. Supp. 520 (D. Wyo. 1994), that Wyoming’s admission as a state extinguished the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights (the “Statehood Holding”). In Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis II), 73 F.3d 982 (10th Cir. 1995), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s Statehood Holding. Alternatively, the Tenth Circuit held that the Bighorn National Forest was “occupied,” so the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights would not have applied to the area in question (the “Occupation Rationale”), and also reasoned that Wyoming could have justified its restrictions on hunting due to its interest in conservation (the “Conservation Necessity Rationale”). In 2019, the Supreme Court decided Herrera v. Wyoming, 139 S. Ct. 1686 (2019), in response to Wyoming’s attempts to prosecute a Tribe member for hunting in Bighorn National Forest. Critically, the Court held that the Tribe’s treaty rights had not been extinguished by Wyoming’s admittance as a state and that Bighorn National Forest was not categorically “occupied.” On remand, Wyoming continued its efforts to prosecute the Tribe’s member, arguing in part that the defendant could not assert a treaty right to hunt in Bighorn National Forest because Repsis II continued to bind the Tribe and its members through the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Tribe moved for relief from Repsis II under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). But the district court denied the Tribe’s motion, holding that it lacked the power to grant relief because the Tenth Circuit relied on alternative grounds for affirmance (the Occupation and Conservation Necessity Rationales) that the district court had not considered in Repsis I. The Tribe appealed, arguing that the district court legally erred when it held that it lacked the power to review the Tribe’s Rule 60(b) motion. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion when it held that it lacked the authority to review the Tribe’s motion for post-judgment relief. The matter was remanded again for further proceedings. View "Crow Tribe of Indians, et al. v. Repsis, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Kyle Sago appealed murder convictions committed in Indian country and causing death by use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (namely, first- or second-degree murder). The jury was instructed on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and self-defense. On appeal Sago argued the district court plainly erred in providing model jury instructions on first- and second-degree murder that inadequately defined the required element of malice. Specifically, he argued the instructions omitted the mitigation defense referred to as “imperfect self-defense:” the instructions were defective in that they failed to inform the jury that it could not find that Sago acted with malice unless it found that he was not acting in the sincere belief (even if the belief was unreasonable) that the use of deadly force was necessary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed: a mitigating circumstance instruction negates the malice element of first- and second-degree murder and must be accompanied by a lesser-included-offense instruction to inform the jury of the offense on which it could convict the defendant in light of the mitigating circumstance. And here, Sago did not request a relevant lesser-included-offense instruction for involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, the trial court did not err in declining to instruct on the mitigating circumstance. View "United States v. Sago" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Isaiah Redbird, a member of the Kiowa Nation, was convicted by jury of first-degree murder and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. On appeal. he argued the district court improperly admitted character evidence about his propensity for violence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(B). The Tenth Circuit found Redbird did not raise that specific objection at trial. Because Redbird did not argue plain error on appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded he waived his evidentiary challenge and therefore affirm his convictions. View "United States v. Redbird" on Justia Law

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congressional mandate to compensate the Wyandotte Tribe for its loss of millions of acres in the Ohio River Valley morphed into a thirty-year dispute over ten acres in a Wichita, Kansas suburb. In 1992, eight years after Congress’s enacted remedy, the Tribe used $25,000 of that compensation to buy a ten-acre lot in Kansas called the Park City Parcel. The next year, the Tribe applied for trust status on the Park City Parcel under Congress’s 1984 enactment, but the Secretary of the Interior denied the application. The Tribe tried again in 2008, reapplying for trust status on the Park City Parcel to set up gaming operations. Since then, the State of Kansas opposed the Tribe’s efforts to conduct gaming on the Parcel. The State disputed the Tribe’s claim that its purchase came from the allocated $100,000 in congressional funds. And the State argued that no exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) authorized the Tribe to operate gaming on the lot. In 2020, the Secretary rejected the State’s arguments, approving the Tribe’s trust application and ruling that the Tribe could conduct gaming operations on the Park City Parcel. The district court agreed. And so did the Tenth Circuit. The Court affirmed the ruling that the Secretary was statutorily bound to take the Park City Parcel into trust and to allow a gaming operation there under IGRA’s settlement-of-a-land-claim exception. View "Kansas ex rel Kobach, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Justin Hooper and the City of Tulsa disputed whether the Curtis Act, 30 Stat. 495 (1898), granted Tulsa jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by all Tulsa’s inhabitants, including Indians, in Indian country. Tulsa issued a traffic citation to Hooper, an Indian and member of the Choctaw Nation, and he paid a $150 fine for the ticket in Tulsa’s Municipal Criminal Court. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Hooper filed an application for post-conviction relief, arguing the municipal court lacked jurisdiction over his offense because it was a crime committed by an Indian in Indian country. Tulsa countered that it had jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by its Indian inhabitants stemming from Section 14 of the Curtis Act. The municipal court agreed with Tulsa and denied Hooper’s application. Hooper then sought relief in federal court—filing a complaint: (1) appealing the denial of his application for post-conviction relief; and (2) seeking a declaratory judgment that Section 14 was inapplicable to Tulsa today. Tulsa moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion to dismiss Hooper’s declaratory judgment claim, agreeing with Tulsa that Congress granted the city jurisdiction over municipal violations by all its inhabitants, including Indians, through Section 14. Based on this determination, the district court dismissed Hooper’s appeal of the municipal court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief as moot. Hooper appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the federal district court erred in dismissing Hooper's declaratory judgment claim because even if the Curtis Act was never repealed, it was no longer applicable to Tulsa. The Court also agreed with Hooper that the district court erred in dismissing his appeal of the municipal court decision as moot based on its analysis of Section 14, but the Court determined the district court lacked jurisdiction over Hooper’s appeal from the municipal court. View "Hooper v. The City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law