United States v. Zepeda

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 07-07-2015
  • Case #: 10-10131
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Fletcher For The Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson, Kozinski, Silverman, Wardlaw, Gould, Paez, Tallman, Callahan, Ikuta, and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

The Indian Major Crimes Act requires: (1) proof of quantum Indian blood, whether it is from a Federally recognized tribe, and (2) proof or affiliation with a federally recognized tribe. Further, a defendant needs to have been an Indian during the time of the charged conduct, and whether a tribe is Federally recognized is a matter of law.

Damien Zepeda told one of his friends that they were going to go to a party. Instead, they went to the home of his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Aviles. Upon arrival, Zepeda gave a shotgun to his brother and pressured him to use it if anyone came near them. After opening the door, Zepeda asked Aviles to leave with him, but she refused. Subsequently, a confrontation resulted in which multiple gun shots were fired and multiple injuries were sustained. Zepeda appealed his convictions for assault and using a firearm under the Indian Major Crimes Act (IMCA). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Zepeda was an Indian within the meaning of the IMCA. The panel explained the IMCA requirements: (1) proof of quantum Indian blood, whether it is from a Federally recognized tribe, and (2) proof or affiliation with a federally recognized tribe. Further, under the IMCA, a defendant needs to have been an Indian during the time of the charged conduct, and whether a tribe is Federally recognized is a matter of law. The panel recognized that, despite instructing the jury to find if he was an Indian without any instruction on how to do so, there was undisputed evidence that he was a member of a Federally recognized tribe. Further, the panel found that Zepeda's Enrollment Certificate establishes that he is a member of the Gila River Indian Community. However, the panel reasoned that his sentence was not unreasonable because the district court is required to impose consecutive mandatory minimum sentences because he used a firearm during his violent crimes. AFFIRMED.

Advanced Search