United States v. Bryant

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: June 13, 2016
  • Case #: No. 15-420
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Sixth Amendment does not preclude the use of uncounseled tribal court convictions as predicate offenses for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 117

In Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367, the Court held, the Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendant’s appointed counsel in any state or federal criminal proceedings in which a term of imprisonment is imposed. The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA), governing criminal proceedings in tribal courts, requires appointed counsel only when a sentence of over a year of imprisonment is imposed. In 2005, in response to high incidence of domestic violence against Native American women, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 117 making it a federal crime for any one to “’commi[t] a domestic assault within . . . Indian country’ if the person has at least two prior final convictions for domestic violence rendered ‘in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.’” Respondent, who has multiple tribal-court convictions for domestic assault, was sentenced to 46 months in a federal district court of Montana. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held “tribal court convictions may be used in subsequent [federal] prosecutions only if the tribal court guarantees a right to counsel that is, at a minimum, coextensive with the Sixth Amendment right.” The Court reversed holding that uncounseled tribal court convictions, arising from pre-existing separate sovereigns, do not run afoul of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Court also rejected Respondent’s due process challenge because ICRA “accords defendants specific procedural safeguards resembling those contained in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

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