541 U.S. 193 (2004), 03-107, United States v. Lara

Docket Nº:No. 03-107
Citation:541 U.S. 193, 124 S.Ct. 1628, 158 L.Ed.2d 420, 72 U.S.L.W. 4277
Party Name:United States v. Lara
Case Date:April 19, 2004
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 193

541 U.S. 193 (2004)

124 S.Ct. 1628, 158 L.Ed.2d 420, 72 U.S.L.W. 4277

United States



No. 03-107

United States Supreme Court

April 19, 2004

Argued January 21, 2004



After respondent Lara, an Indian who is not a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe (Tribe), ignored the Tribe's order excluding him from its reservation, he struck one of the federal officers arresting him. He pleaded guilty in Tribal Court to the crime of violence to a policeman. The Federal Government then charged him with the federal crime of assaulting a federal officer. Lara claimed that because key elements of that crime mirrored elements of his tribal crime, he was protected by the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Government countered that the Clause does not bar successive prosecutions by separate sovereigns, and that this "dual sovereignty" doctrine determined the outcome. The Government noted that this Court has held that a tribe acts as a separate sovereign in prosecuting its own members, United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 318, 322-323; that, after this Court ruled that a tribe lacks sovereign authority to prosecute nonmember Indians, see Duro v. Reina, 495 U.S. 676, 679, Congress specifically authorized such prosecutions; and that, because this statute enlarges the tribes' self-government powers to include "the inherent power of Indian tribes . . . to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Indians," 25 U.S.C. § 1301(2), the Tribe here had exercised its own tribal authority, not delegated federal authority. Accepting this argument, the Magistrate Judge rejected Lara's double jeopardy claim. The en banc Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the "dual sovereignty" doctrine did not apply because the Tribal Court was exercising a federal prosecutorial power, and thus the Double Jeopardy Clause barred the second prosecution.


Because the Tribe acted in its capacity as a sovereign authority, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prohibit the Federal Government from proceeding with the present prosecution for a discrete federal offense. Pp.199-211.

(a) Congress has the constitutional power to lift the restrictions on the tribes' criminal jurisdiction over nonmember Indians. Pp. 199-207.

(1) Section 1301(2) "recognize[s] and affirm[s]" in each tribe the "inherent power" to prosecute nonmember Indians, and its legislative history confirms that such was Congress' intent. Thus, it seeks to adjust the tribes' status, relaxing restrictions, recognized in Duro, that the

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political branches had imposed on the tribes' exercise of inherent prosecutorial power. Pp. 199-200.

(2) Several considerations lead to the conclusion that Congress has the constitutional power to lift these restrictions. First, the Constitution, through the Indian Commerce and Treaty Clauses, grants Congress "plenary and exclusive" powers to legislate in respect to Indian tribes. E.g., Washington v. Confederated Bands and Tribes of Yakima Nation, 439 U.S. 463, 470-471. Second, Congress, with this Court's approval, has interpreted these plenary grants of power as authorizing it to enact legislation that both restricts tribal powers and, in turn, relaxes those restrictions. Third, Congress' statutory goal -- to modify the degree of autonomy enjoyed by a dependent sovereign that is not a State -- is not an unusual legislative objective. Fourth, Lara points to no explicit language in the Constitution suggesting a limitation on Congress' institutional authority to relax tribal sovereignty restrictions previously imposed by the political branches. Fifth, the change at issue is limited, concerning a power similar to the power to prosecute a tribe's own members, which this Court has called inherent. Sixth, concluding that Congress has the power to relax the restrictions imposed by the political branches on the tribes' inherent prosecutorial authority is consistent with this Court's earlier cases. The holdings in Wheeler, supra, at 326; Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, 435 U.S. 191, 209-210; and Duro, supra, at 686, that the tribes' power to prosecute nonmembers was divested by treaties and Congress, reflected the Court's view of the tribes' retained sovereign status at the time of those decisions; but they did not set forth constitutional limits prohibiting Congress from taking actions to modify or adjust that status. The Court there based its descriptions of inherent tribal authority on the sources as they existed at the time. Congressional legislation was one such important source, but it is a source subject to change. When Duro, supra, at 686, like other cases, referred to a statute that "delegated" power to the tribes, it simply did not consider whether a statute could constitutionally achieve the same end by removing restrictions on the tribes' inherent authority. Thus, none of those cases can be read to hold that the Constitution forbids Congress to change judicially made federal Indian law through an amendment to § 1301(2). Wheeler, Oliphant, and Duro, then, are not determinative because Congress has enacted a new statute, relaxing restrictions on the bounds of the inherent tribal authority the United States recognizes. Pp. 200-207.

(b) Lara's additional arguments cannot help him win his double jeopardy claim. This Court will not consider the merits of his due process claim that his prosecution was invalid because the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 does not guarantee counsel to an indigent criminal defendant.

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Proving that claim does not show that the source of the tribal prosecution was federal power, something Lara must do to win his double jeopardy claim. Like the due process claim, Lara's argument that the phrase "all Indians" in "inherent power . . .to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Indians" violates the Equal Protection Clause is beside the point. And Lara simply repeats these due process and equal protection arguments in a different form when he argues that the Duro Court found the absence of certain constitutional safeguards, such as an indigent defendant's right to counsel, an important reason for concluding that tribes lacked the "inherent power" to try nonmember Indians. Pp. 207-209.

324 F.3d 635 reversed.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion., post, p. 210. KENNEDY, J., and THOMAS, J., post, p. 214, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 226.

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This case concerns a congressional statute "recogniz[ing] and affirm[ing]" the "inherent" authority of a tribe to bring a criminal misdemeanor prosecution against an Indian who is not a member of that tribe -- authority that this Court previously held a tribe did not possess. Compare 25 U.S.C. § 1301(2) with Duro v. Reina, 495 U.S. 676 (1990). We must decide whether Congress has the constitutional power to relax restrictions that the political branches have, over time, placed on the exercise of a tribe's inherent legal authority. We conclude that Congress does possess this power.


Respondent Billy Jo Lara is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in north-central North Dakota. He married a member of a different tribe, the Spirit Lake Tribe, and lived with his wife and children on the Spirit Lake Reservation, also located in North Dakota. See Brief for Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe of North Dakota et al. as Amici Curiae 4-5. After several incidents of serious misconduct, the Spirit Lake Tribe issued an order excluding him from the reservation. Lara ignored the order; federal officers stopped him; and he struck one of the arresting officers. 324 F.3d 635, 636 (CA8 2003) (en banc).

The Spirit Lake Tribe subsequently prosecuted Lara in the Spirit Lake Tribal Court for "violence to a policeman." Ibid. Lara pleaded guilty and, in respect to that crime, served 90 days in jail. See Ibid.; Tr. of Oral Arg. 28.

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After Lara's tribal conviction, the Federal Government charged Lara in the Federal District Court for the District of North Dakota with the federal crime of assaulting a federal officer. 324 F.3d at 636; 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1). Key elements of this federal crime mirror elements of the tribal crime of "violence to a policeman." See Brief for United States 7. And this similarity between the two crimes would ordinarily have brought Lara within the protective reach of the Double Jeopardy Clause. U.S. Const., Amdt. 5 (the Government may not "subject" any person "for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb"); 324 F.3d at 636. But the Government, responding to Lara's claim of double jeopardy, pointed out that the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar successive prosecutions brought by separate sovereigns, and it argued that this "dual sovereignty" doctrine determined the outcome here. See Heath v. Alabama, 474 U.S. 82, 88 (1985) (the Double Jeopardy Clause reflects the "common law conception of crime as an offense against the sovereignty of the government"; when "a defendant in a single act violates the 'peace and dignity' of two sovereigns by breaking the laws of each, he has committed two distinct 'offenses'").

The Government noted that this Court has held that an Indian tribe acts as a separate sovereign when it prosecutes its own members. United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 318, 322-323 (1978) (a tribe's "sovereign power to punish tribal offenders," while subject to congressional "defeasance," remains among those "'inherent powers of a limited sovereignty which has never been extinguished'" (emphasis added and...

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