10th Circuit allows use of tribal court conviction in federal court

Another appeals court has allowed tribal court convictions to be used against defendants in federal court.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals joins the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in accepting tribal court convictions that were secured without the presence of an attorney. Both cases involved repeat domestic violence offenders who claimed their rights to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were violated.

"We reiterate that because the Bill of Rights does not apply to Indian tribes, tribal convictions cannot violate the Sixth Amendment," the 10th Circuit said in a decision on Tuesday.

Federal law, under 18 U.S.C. § 117, recognizes the use of "Indian tribal court proceedings" in order to punish habitual domestic violence offenders. Both courts noted the high rates of violence against women in Indian Country.

"The court concluded that Congress passed § 117, in part, as a gap-filling measure to capture repeat misdemeanor domestic-abuse offenders in a federal recidivist scheme that, generally, had applied only to persons convicted of felonies," the 8th Circuit wrote earlier this month.

"Protecting Indians from domestic violence is unquestionably a legitimate government interest. Congress has found that Indian women are subject to physical and sexual abuse at higher rates than other groups in the United States," the 10th Circuit stated.

The 10th Circuit decision was unanimous, The 8th Circuit, however, was split 2-1, potentially opening the door for an en banc ruling that could go the other way.

Get the Story:
More on Uncounseled Tribal Court Convictions (Turtle Talk 7/27)

10th Circuit Decision:
US v. Shavanaux (July 26, 2011)

8th Circuit Decision:
US v. Cavanaugh (July 6, 2011)

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