Grant Christensen on ICRA and Banishment

Written by: Matthew Fletcher

Primary Source : Turtle Talk, May 9, 2018

Grant Christensen has posted “Civil Rights Notes: American Indians and Banishment, Jury Trials, and the Doctrine of Lenity,” forthcoming in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal.

The syllabus:

Indian defendants appearing before tribal courts are not protected by the Bill of Rights. Instead, Congress enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968 to extend some, but not all, constitutional protections unto Indian reservations. Fifty years later and there continues to be extensive litigation surrounding ICRA.

This paper looks at all of the ICRA cases decided in 2017 to attempt to evaluate the merits of ICRA’s protections of tribal rights. The picture is decidedly mixed. From these cases the paper calls for three changes that directly respond to trends in civil rights litigation. 1) The paper suggests that courts expand the understanding of habeas jurisdiction to extend when an individual has been banished. It argues that banishment is a form of confinement and a restriction of liberty – albeit one where the jail cell is large, essentially the world minus the reservation. 2) Tribes must adopt codes that provide for a trial by jury and rules for determining who constitutes the jury and how it may be empaneled. While ICRA provides for a trial by jury, tribal courts have an affirmative duty to inform defendants of their right to request a jury trial. It is a violation of ICRA if the tribe does not make provisions for a jury when requested. 3) Finally tribal court judgments, when used in other forums, may be ambiguous because tribal law and tribal procedures are distinct from those followed by states or the federal system. Accordingly, any ambiguity that arises in response to a tribal court judgment should be resolved with a reference to the doctrine of lenity.

 

The following two tabs change content below.
Matthew Fletcher
Matthew L.M. Fletcher is Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. He is the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and also sits as an appellate judge for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians. He is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, located in Peshawbestown, Michigan. In 2010, Professor Fletcher was elected to the American Law Institute.