United States v. Juvenile Male

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 01-20-2012
  • Case #: No. 11-30065
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Circuit Judges Guy, Jr. and Tallman
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Bruce framework, a bench trial court can find beyond a reasonable doubt that a juvenile is “Indian” under 18 U.S.C. § 1153, despite not being socially recognized by the tribe, when he has a sufficient amount of Indian blood, is enrolled as a tribal member, receives governmental assistance for Indians, and benefits from tribal association.

A juvenile male was convicted under the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, and found to be “Indian” which provides the federal government jurisdiction for crimes carried out by Indians on Indian territory. The defendant contends that the bench trial court erred by finding him to be “Indian” because he “does not identify as Indian,” nor is he “socially recognized as Indian by other tribal members.” The defendant appeals the trial court’s conviction, arguing that the government has not met its burden by establishing his “Indian status” by a reasonable doubt. As “Indian” is not defined in the statute, the Court analyzed the issue under the framework developed in Bruce, that the person have a sufficient amount of Indian blood and be federally recognized as Indian. The Court found that the defendant satisfied this first element. Next, the Court considered the second element and found that the first three factors were easily met because the defendant had enrolled as a tribal member, receives governmental assistance for Indians, and recieves benefits from tribal association. The Court held that failing to meet the fourth factor, social recognition as an Indian by the tribe, was not as important as being enrolled as a tribal member and does not outweigh the other Bruce factors. AFFIRMED.

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