United States v. Reza-Ramos

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 03-09-2016
  • Case #: 11-10029
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Ikuta for the Court; Circuit Judges Wallace and McKeown
  • Full Text Opinion

Because jurisdiction depends upon the victim’s status as an Indian, the government has the burden to prove the victim’s status when a non-Indian commits a criminal offense against an alleged Indian on a federally recognized reservation.

Victor Reza-Ramos, a Mexican citizen, was convicted under the federal murder statute for the murder of Jose Flores, an Indian of the Tohono O’odham tribe. The murder occurred on the Tohono O’odham reservation in Arizona. Reza-Ramos appealed his conviction, arguing, among other things, that the federal statute did not apply unless the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Flores was an Indian. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit decided whether the government or the defendant bears the burden of proving or disproving the victim’s status. The panel held that because jurisdiction depends upon the victim’s status as an Indian, the government has the burden to prove the victim’s status when a non-Indian commits a criminal offense against an alleged Indian on a federally recognized reservation. The government proved both prongs of the Indian status requirement; that the victim had “some quantum of Indian blood” and that the victim was a member of a federally recognized tribe. AFFIRMED in Part, VACATED in Part, and REMANDED.

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