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9th Circuit determines defendant doesn't meet 'Indian' status

A defendant's tribal enrollment certificate isn't enough to prove he is an "Indian" for purposes of federal law, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday.

Damien Zepeda possesses a "Certificate of Enrollment" from the Gila River Indian Community, a federally recognized tribe in Arizona. It states that he has 1/4 "Pima" and 1/2 "Tohono O’odham" blood.

However, federal prosecutors did not prove that Zepeda's Indian blood comes from a federally-recognized tribe, the court determined by a 2-1 vote. Neither "Pima" nor "Tohono O’Odham" appear on the list of federally recognized tribes, the decision stated.

"The government introduced no evidence that any of these Indian groups are a federally recognized tribe," Judge Richard A. Paez wrote for the majority.

As a result, the court reversed Zepeda's conviction by a jury. He had been found guilty of conspiracy to commit assault, assault with a deadly weapon and use of a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with a shooting incident on the Ak-Chin Indian Community that left a victim severely injured.

Judge Paul J. Watford dissented. He said any "rational" jury could have inferred that Zepeda's "Tohono O’Odham" blood in fact comes from the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, US v. Zepeda.

Get the Story:
Court reverses shooting convictions on question of tribal membership (Cronkite News 9/19)

9th Circuit Decision:
US v. Zepeda (September 19, 2013)

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9th Circuit reverses conviction over Indian status of defendant (1/21)

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