Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe

Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe

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Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe

 

Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe

 

Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe is an important 1978 Supreme Court case, the full name of which is Mark David Oliphant and Daniel B. Belgrade v. the Suquamish Indian Tribe. The petitioners in this case were non-Indian residents of the Port Madison Reservation in Washington state. Oliphant had been arrested for assaulting a tribal officer and resisting arrest, while Belgrade had been arrested because of a high-speed car chase during which he crashed into the vehicle of a tribal officer.

 

In their lawsuit, both Oliphant and Belgrade argued that the tribal authority to handle its own criminal prosecution and sentencing in cases where the defendants were tribal members did not extend to non-tribal members who had committed crimes on a reservation. This challenged the 1973 adoption by the Port Madison Reservation of a Law and Order Code, which granted the tribe authority to handle crimes committed by both tribal members and non-members if not committed on their land.

 

At the time at which Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe began, 33 out of the 127 reservations in the United States claimed the right to try the crimes of non-tribal members committed on their land. This right was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which initially heard Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe. Oliphant and Belgrade then appealed their case to the Supreme Court.

 

In ruling on Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the Supreme Court first considered the prior history and precedent of the authority granted to tribal councils. One of the first important Congressional acts taken to clarify their authority came in 1834, when Congress passed a law stating that government officials and American citizens passing through tribal land were not subject to this kind of law enforcement. The majority opinion in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe went on to note a previous Supreme Court ruling in "In re Mayfield," an 1891 ruling affirming the right of federal courts to try non-tribal members for crimes committed on Indian land.

 

The Supreme Court went on to consider a number of prior precedents leading to its decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, including the 1810 ruling of Fletcher v. Peck. In its majority opinion in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the Supreme Court noted that this case established the idea that Indian land can be self-governed but, since dependent on the United States, is ultimately subject to the rulings of Congress on what kind of rulings can be made.

 

The Supreme Court therefore decided in a majority opinion of six to two that in the case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe the tribe did not have the right to claim authority over non-tribal members. The Supreme Court also noted that this decision was based on the lack of prior precedent rather than the merits of such authority and encouraged Congress to pass legislation to clarify its stance on the issue.

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