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Supreme Court rules against Navajo Nation member
Law Center | 2022/06/13 18:06
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Native Americans prosecuted in certain tribal courts can also be prosecuted based on the same incident in federal court, which can result in longer sentences.

The 6-3 ruling is in keeping with an earlier ruling from the 1970s that said the same about a more widely used type of tribal court.

The case before the justices involved a Navajo Nation member, Merle Denezpi, accused of rape. He served nearly five months in jail after being charged with assault and battery in what is called a Court of Indian Offenses, a court that deals exclusively with alleged Native American offenders.

Under federal law Courts of Indian Offenses can only impose sentences of generally up to a year. The man was later prosecuted in federal court and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He said the Constitution’s “Double Jeopardy” clause should have barred the second prosecution.

But the justices disagreed.

“Denezpi’s single act led to separate prosecutions for violations of a tribal ordinance and a federal statute. Because the Tribe and the Federal Government are distinct sovereigns, those” offenses are not the same, Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for a majority of the court. “Denezpi’s second prosecution therefore did not offend the Double Jeopardy Clause.”

The Biden administration had argued for that result as had several states, which said barring federal prosecutions in similar cases could allow defendants to escape harsh sentences.

The case before the justices involves a tribal court system that has become increasingly rare over the last century. Courts of Indian Offenses were created in the late 1800s during a period when the federal government’s policy toward Native Americans was to encourage assimilation. Prosecutors are federal officers answerable to federal authorities, not tribal authorities.

Federal policy toward Native Americans shifted in the mid-1930s, however, to emphasize a greater respect for tribes’ native ways. As part of that, the government has encouraged tribes to create their own tribal courts, and the number of Courts of Indian Offenses has steadily decreased. Today there are five regional Courts of Indian Offenses that serve 16 tribes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. They are generally tribes with a small number of members or limited resources. Nationwide there are more than 570 federally recognized tribes.

The court said in 1978 that the Double Jeopardy clause did not bar the federal government from prosecuting a Native person in federal court after a tribal court prosecution, so the only question for the court this time was whether the rule should be different for Courts of Indian Offenses.

In July 2017, Denezpi traveled with a female member of the Navajo Nation to Towaoc, Colorado, which is a part of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. While there, Denezpi raped the woman.

Denezpi was first charged in a Court of Indian Offenses with assault and battery, among other things. He eventually agreed to a so-called Alford plea in the case, not admitting guilt but acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence that he would likely be convicted at trial. He was sentenced to time served, 140 days in jail. His prosecution in federal court followed.


Supreme Court Notebook: Roberts pays tribute to Breyer
Law Center | 2022/04/27 17:13
The fertile mind of Justice Stephen Breyer has conjured a stream of hypothetical questions through the years that have, in the words of a colleague, “befuddled” lawyers and justices alike.

Breyer, 83, seemed a bit subdued as he sat through the last of more than 2,000 arguments Wednesday in which he has taken part during 28 years on the high court. His wife, Joanna, also was in the courtroom.

But at the end of the case about Oklahoma’s authority to prosecute people accused of crimes on Native American lands, an emotional Chief Justice John Roberts paid tribute to Breyer for his prowess during arguments.

“For 28 years, this has been his arena for remarks profound and moving, questions challenging and insightful, and hypotheticals downright silly,” Roberts said.

A day earlier, Breyer provided only the most recent example, inventing a prison inmate named John the Tigerman in a case involving transporting an inmate for a medical test. Breyer called him “the most dangerous prisoner they have ever discovered.”

Just since Breyer announced in late January that he was retiring, he has asked lawyers to answer questions involving spiders, muskrats and “4-foot-long cigars smoked through hookahs” — none of which, it’s fair to say, had any actual links to the cases at hand.



Not guilty plea entered in alleged drug deal slaying
Law Center | 2022/03/07 10:56
A defendant accused of fatally shooting a man because he didn’t want to pay him for a drug deal pleaded not guilty in Brown County Circuit Court Monday.

Pedro Santiago-Marquez is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and being party to mutilating a corpse in connection with the Sept. 27 murder of Jason Mendez-Ramos.

Prosecutors say Mendez-Ramos was angry that he had not been paid $80,000 for a cocaine deal. A criminal complaint says rather than pay for the cocaine, Santiago-Marquez shot him in the head with a pistol. The victim’s burned body was found at the edge of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, WLUK-TV reported.

Security videos, cell phone tracking information, and DNA tie Rodriguez-Garcia to that scene, according to the criminal complaint.

Another man, 47-year-old Alexander Burgos-Mojica, is charged with harboring or aiding a felon in connection with the case. He returns to court March 18 for a balance of initial appearance. Rodriguez-Garcia returns to court March 21 for a status conference on the charge of mutilating a corpse.


Man convicted of fraudulently seeking $13M in COVID-19 loans
Law Center | 2022/02/28 10:31
A Massachusetts businessman has been convicted of fraudulently seeking more than $13 million in federal coronavirus pandemic relief loans, federal prosecutors said.

Elijah Majak Buoi, 40, of Winchester, was convicted Thursday of four counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution following a three-day trial in Boston federal court, according to U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins’ office.

Prosecutors said Buoi submitted six loan applications through the Paycheck Protection Program but misrepresented the number of employees and payroll expenses for his startup company, Sosuda Tech. He also submitted fraudulent IRS tax forms to support his applications, they said.

The loan program was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act that allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive forgivable loans to cover payroll, mortgages, rent and utilities.

Buoi was able to obtain a $2 million loan before he was arrested in June 2020. Rollins’ office said the government has recovered nearly all of the money.


Criminal Defense Attorney in San Bernardino, California
Law Center | 2021/06/03 11:08
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We believe in aggressive advocacy, coupled with creativity. From the moment of your initial consultation, you can expect that we will be working your case towards the best resolution. Our clients see and hear every piece of evidence collected in defending their cases so they are fully informed of the facts, accusations, and defenses. Contact us at to schedule a free consultation.


Georgia court officials eye March for jury trial resumption
Law Center | 2021/02/03 09:27
Georgia court officials say they are hopeful jury trials will resume in March given the recent decline in coronavirus cases along with the rollout of vaccines.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed an order on Sunday extending for another 30 days a statewide judicial emergency that suspends the trials because of concerns about COVID-19.

But the order says the surge in virus cases that led to the suspension appears to be declining, and it is anticipated that superior and state courts will get the green light to resume the trials at their discretion in March.

Online payment of court costs, fines expands in Kentucky

The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts has expanded its online payment options.

As of last week, people who owe court costs, fines, fees or restitution on eligible cases can make full or partial payments, the office said in a news release. Previously the ePay program only allowed payment in full in prepayable cases, which is one that doesn't require a court appearance.

"The primary advantage is that anyone who owes court costs can now pay online," Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said. "We're also easing the financial strain for those who have a prepayable case by allowing them to pay over time, if needed."


Court halts police subpoena for media’s protest images
Law Center | 2020/08/22 18:10
Less than 24 hours before a court order would have required five Seattle media companies to turn over unpublished protest photos and videos to police, the state Supreme Court has granted them a temporary respite.

A Washington state Supreme Court commissioner on Thursday postponed a King County judge’s order that would have required The Seattle Times and local television stations KIRO, KING, KOMO and KCPQ, to comply with a Seattle police subpoena by handing over photos and video taken during racial injustice protests.

Instead, Commissioner Michael E. Johnston agreed with the news companies’ motion for an emergency stay while the high court considers the media groups’ appeal of King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee’s July 31 order, The Seattle Times reported.

“On balance, I am not persuaded that the potential harm to SPD (Seattle Police Department) outweighs the potential harm to the news media,” Johnston wrote in his ruling.

Lee had given the news companies until Aug. 21 to produce to his court their unpublished images from a 90-minute period when protests turned chaotic in downtown Seattle on May 30.

Last month, the Seattle Police Department contended it was at a standstill in its investigation of arson and thefts that day, leading detectives to seek and obtain a subpoena for the images. Investigators say the images could help identify people who torched five Seattle Police Department vehicles and stole two police guns from police vehicles during the mayhem.

The news groups countered that Washington’s so-called “shield law” protected the images from disclosure. As in most states, journalists in Washington are shielded from law enforcement subpoenas except under limited circumstances. The laws are an extension of the First Amendment, meant to guard against government interference in news gathering.

Lee, a former King County prosecutor, ruled that the rare public safety concerns of the case overrode the shield law’s protections, subjecting the news photos and video to the subpoena. Under his order, Lee or a special master of his choosing would have screened the media images privately to decide whether any should be turned over to police.

The ruling drew criticism from First Amendment groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, press organizations and members of the Seattle City Council, who asked City Attorney Pete Holmes to drop the subpoena. Seattle police officials, however, have defended the subpoena as necessary to solve the investigation and retrieve the weapons, which remain missing.

On Aug. 11, the news groups appealed directly to the Supreme Court, asking the panel to halt enforcement of the subpoena until the court resolved the news groups’ contentions that Lee erred in his ruling.

“The equities favor the news media, though I am deeply mindful of the public safety concerns attendant to stolen police firearms and intentional destruction of law enforcement vehicles and other property,” Johnston wrote.

The Supreme Court will decide at “the earliest opportunity as to whether to retain the (media companies’) appeal or refer it to the Court of Appeals,” Johnston’s ruling stated.



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