Final brief sent to Supreme Court in Indian blood and race case

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Indianz.Com

The U.S. Supreme Court should have an answer later this month in a case that raises blood quantum and race issues for criminal defendants in Indian Country.

Briefing is complete in Zepeda v. US and the justices will consider the petition at a closed-door conference on April 22, according to the docket sheet. They would then announce the following week whether or not they have agreed to hear the case.

At issue is whether Damien Zepeda should have been tried in federal court for a brutal shooting and assault that occurred in October 2008. Although he acknowledges that he is a member of the Gila River Indian Community he claims prosecutors have not proven he is "Indian" under the Indian Major Crimes Act.

Zepeda is serving a 90-year prison sentence for the crime so freeing him from federal jurisdiction would have a major impact in his case.

But the Department of Justice is urging the Supreme Court to reject the petition. Government attorneys believe the case does not present any nationwide issues of dispute and that prosecutors still have ways to prove Zepeda is indeed "Indian."

His enrollment certificate lists his Indian blood as deriving from "1/4 Pima and 1/4 Tohono O’Odham" and the government says it can show why Zepeda falls under the Indian Major Crimes Act.

While criminal defendants, overall, have a better record in the Supreme Court than tribal interests, the last Indian Country criminal case that the justices heard was more than a decade ago. In US v. Lara, the justices determined that tribes can exercise criminal jurisdiction over "all Indians" and not just their own members.

The high court already has one Indian Country criminal case on its current docket. The justices will hear US v. Bryant, which will determine whether the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong when it limited the use of tribal court convictions against repeat domestic violence offenders, on April 19.

Zepeda's case also comes from the 9th Circuit, which covers a wide swath of Indian Country in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

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

9th Circuit Decisions:
US v. Zepeda (July 7, 2015)
US v. Zepeda (September 19, 2013)
US v. Maggi / US v. Mann (March 16, 2010)

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