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9th Circuit reverses conviction in Indian status case


A man with 22 percent Indian blood cannot be prosecuted in federal court because he is not a recognized tribal member, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.

Christopher Cruz was convicted of assault resulting in serious bodily injury for an incident that occurred on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. But since he does not meet the definition of "Indian" under federal law, the 9th Circuit said he shouldn't have been tried in federal court.

As a result, Cruz won't face prosecution in state court either due to double jeopardy. The U.S. Attorney in Montana said appeals are possible.

At issue in the case was whether Cruz met the Bruce test that was laid out in a prior 9th Circuit decision. The court noted that he possessed a significant degree of Indian blood, the first factor.

But the 9th Circuit said Cruz didn't meet the second factor -- whether he has tribal or federal government recognition as an Indian. Though he qualifies for certain benefits as a Blackfeet descendant, the court noted he didn't take advantage of them and only lived on the reservation for a brief portion of his life.

Cruz, now 21, was sentenced in October 2007 to three years and nine months in prison.

Get the Story:
Court says Browningman not an Indian, aquits him (The Great Falls Tribune 2/11)
Court acquits man because he isn't an Indian (The Los Angeles Times 2/11)
Ninth Circuit: Man Not ‘Indian’ Enough for Assault-by-Indian Conviction (Metropolitan News-Enterprise 2/11)

9th Circuit Decision:
US v. Cruz (February 10, 2009)

Related Stories:
Murder trial stalled due to 'Indian' status issue (10/6)