United States v. Cooley, Joshua J.

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Tribal Law
  • Date Filed: November 20, 2020
  • Case #: 19-1414
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 919 F.3d 1135 (9th Cir. 2019)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the lower courts erred in suppressing evidence on the theory that a police officer of an Indian tribe lacked authority to temporarily detain and search respondent, a non-Indian, on a public right-of-way within a reservation based on a potential violation of state or federal law.

Respondent’s automobile was parked on the side of a public highway in “Indian country.” Respondent “appeared to be non-Native.” Tribal police saw semi-automatic rifles in the passenger seat and cash on Respondent’s person. Tribal police ordered Respondent out, after which they found a bag of methamphetamine in the automobile. Respondent was transported to the county police station and there arrested for “possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.” 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The District Court suppressed the evidence of methamphetamine in the automobile. The court found that Tribal police lack jurisdiction over non-Indian suspects on public highways, except temporarily detaining and delivering them to non-Indian law enforcement when there is “apparent” unlawful behavior. The court held that the “apparent” rule, which was not met when tribal police ordered Respondent out, is “more stringent” than probable cause. The Ninth Circuit affirmed and held that, even when unlawful behavior is “apparent,” tribal police can only detain but not search non-Indian suspects. Petitioner argues that the Ninth Circuit made a “significant error” in affording little weight to tribes’ “sovereign powers” of self-government in “Indian country.” Petitioner contends that tribal police actions here were firmly situated within historical tribal jurisdiction because the actions were investigatory, not adjudicatory. 

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