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1st Circuit tells Narragansett Tribe to comply with grand jury

Filed Under: Law
More on: 1st circuit, immunity, narragansett, rhode island

The Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island can't assert sovereign immunity in a federal grand jury proceeding, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals said today.

The tribe's historic preservation office refused to turn over documents to the grand jury as part of an unspecified investigation that remains under seal. The office was held in contempt and ordered to pay $500 in fines every day.

On appeal, the 1st Circuit lifted the contempt citation. The court said the contempt proceedings started after the grand jury had already expired, making the request unenforceable.

However, the court said the office can't assert immunity in future proceedings because the United States is a "superior" sovereign. Congress abrogated tribal powers through the Major Crimes Act and other federal criminal statutes, the decision stated.

"For the sake of completeness, we further note that, even if the tribes did originally enjoy sovereign immunity from federal grand jury process, Congress has abrogated that immunity through the enactment of federal criminal statutes extending to Indian country 'the general laws of the United States as to the punishment of offenses committed in any place within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States,'" the court stated, quoting a section of federal law that applies to Indian Country. "That grant of criminal jurisdiction necessarily entails the authorization of investigative and enforcement mechanisms such as the grand jury subpoena power."

The tribe's attorney, William Devereaux, declined to comment on the investigation that spurred the appeal, the Associated Press reported.

Get the Story:
Court: Federal grand jury subpoenaed Narragansett tribe, no details on investigation (AP 2/25)

1st Circuit Decision:
In Re: Grand Jury Proceedings v. District Court of Rhode Island, Providence (February 25, 2015)

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