on Jun 13, 2022
at 11:43 am
A defendant’s double-jeopardy rights under the Fifth Amendment were not violated by a prosecution in federal court after the defendant was first prosecuted and sentenced by the Court of Indian Offenses of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
The court was divided 6-3 in an unusual vote alignment, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett writing the majority opinion. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissent, which was joined in part by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The case, Denezpi v. United States, involved Merle Denezpi, a Navajo Nation citizen, who was accused of a violent sexual offense against V.Y., who is also a citizen of the Navajo Nation. The offense occurred on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in July 2017. Denezpi pleaded to a simple assault and battery charge pursuant to the Ute Mountain Ute criminal code in December 2017, and was sentenced to time served, or 140 days. He was later indicted by a federal grand jury for the federal offense of aggravated sexual abuse for the same incident.
His motion to dismiss the indictment on double-jeopardy grounds was denied. He was convicted by a federal jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Denezpi appealed the denial of his double-jeopardy motion, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against him.
The Supreme Court affirmed the 9th Circuit, rejecting Denezpi’s argument that the two prosecutions violated the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause, which generally protects people from being prosecuted twice for “the same offense.”
“Denezpi’s single act led to separate prosecutions for violations of a tribal ordinance and a federal statute,” Barrett wrote. “Because the Tribe and the Federal Government are distinct sovereigns, those ‘offence[s]’ are not ‘the same.’ Denezpi’s second prosecution therefore did not offend the Double Jeopardy Clause.”
Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.