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SMART Watch Dispatch, December 2014

NCJ Number
SMART Watch Dispatch Dated: December 2014 Pages: 1-2
Date Published
December 2014
2 pages
Using the court case of United States v. Michael Bryant, Jr. (Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, 2014), this paper discusses whether a conviction in a tribal court obtained without the aid of counsel qualifies as an offense that can be considered in applying habitual-offender laws, and implications are drawn for the implementation of the Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).
Michael Bryant, Jr., an Indian from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, was indicted for domestic assault under a Federal recidivist statute that penalizes offenders who commit domestic assault and have at least two prior domestic assault convictions. Bryant had two prior tribal court convictions for domestic violence. In these cases he pled guilty without being appointed counsel. The legal issues raised by this case relate to whether tribal court convictions obtained without appointed counsel may be used in a subsequent proceeding. The Ninth Circuit sided with Bryant in deciding that because his tribal court convictions would have been unconstitutional had they been obtained in State or Federal court, they may not be used to prove his guilt in a subsequent Federal prosecution. This decision put the Ninth Circuit in conflict with the Eighth and Tenth Circuits, which held that uncounseled tribal court convictions can be used in subsequent Federal prosecutions. This is based on the courts' opinion that the sixth amendment (right to counsel) does not apply in tribal court. The Ninth Circuit did recognize an exception for Federal statutes that "serve merely as enforcement mechanisms for civil disabilities." SORNA would most likely be found to fall under this exception. The criminal penalties imposed under SORNA for failure to register could serve merely as a means to enforce a civil disability registration.

Date Published: December 1, 2014