GREAT FALLS — Two hundred years of tribal law will be upended if a federal judge allows the U.S. government to prosecute a Blackfeet Indian leader and state senator for a victimless crime that happened on the reservation, a Blackfeet attorney said Thursday.

Joe McKay, a tribal attorney representing Shannon Augare, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong to dismiss the misdemeanor charges brought by federal prosecutors against Augare.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council member and Democratic state senator from Browning is accused of driving drunk and fleeing a Glacier County sheriff's deputy during a May traffic stop on U.S. Highway 2 within the northwestern Montana reservation's boundaries.

The tribe has exclusive jurisdiction over victimless misdemeanor crimes involving Indians on the reservation, McKay argued in a hearing at U.S. District Court in Great Falls.

"That has been the law, your honor, for 200 years," McKay said, adding the U.S. attorney's decision to prosecute Augare is a "gross intrusion on Indian sovereignty."

Blackfeet chief prosecutor Carl Pepion referred the case to federal prosecutors after weeks of investigating whether to pursue charges against Augare in federal court.

The U.S. attorney's office charged Augare with drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of a peace officer. Prosecutors are pursuing the case under the federal Assimilated Crimes Act, which allows them to apply state laws to offenses committed in federal enclaves that are not specifically addressed in federal law.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon said the law includes Indian reservations, and the federal government has joint jurisdiction with the tribal government over such misdemeanor crimes.

"This case was referred to us, and we are prosecuting it under that theory," Weldon said.

McKay said neither the Assimilated Crime Act nor the legislative history in creating that law ever addressed Indians. He rebuffed arguments that several previous cases allowed the law to be applied on reservations.

McKay also warned Strong that a ruling allowing Augare's prosecution will subject other Indians to the possibility of dual prosecution by federal and tribal courts for misdemeanor crimes, or at least create a rush for one court to establish jurisdiction over the other.

"What will be created here under that approach is a race to justice," McKay said.

The magistrate judge said he will make a ruling on the request to dismiss the charges by the end of next week.

In the meantime, he set a Nov. 7 trial date for Augare.

(5) comments

gadflyohsofly
gadflyohsofly

It could also be argued that my tax dollars going to the tribes for necessities such as liquor, drugs and gambling is a gross intrusion on their sovereignty.
Cut them off if they are sovereign.

leftwingistherightwing
leftwingistherightwing

I was really expecting to see 'Onion News' somewhere on this article. What a disgrace tribal law has become.

Agencygrl
Agencygrl

"Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. wrote to U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter in an Aug. 14 letter recently obtained by The Associated Press. Sharp Jr. said Cotter broke the trust of the tribe when he decided to prosecute Augare."

What about the public trust Augare is supposed to uphold as a member of the Blackfeet Business Council and State Senator? Doesn't sound like any one much cares about that. The "good ol boy" network exists in Indian Country too, and because of it, people like Augare think they can run from the law and not be held accountable for their actions just because they're on the reservation. I'm sure he would've much preferred to have been stopped by a tribal cop than he possibly could've had it swept under the rug based on his identity. This is a prime example why the Blackfeet tribe is in the mess they're in, because the top dogs spend too much time and money trying to keep each other out of jail instead of focusing on what's really important - the people. A DUI might be a misdemeanor crime but it can turn into a felony real quick if you end up killing someone all because you made the stupid decision to drink and drive.

DonaldM
DonaldM

What nonsense. Tribal law is not the issue. If he was driving on a "road" solely within the reservation that was not built or maintained by the federal or state govts. he might have a point.

This infraction occured upon a US Highway, built and maintained by the United States and State of Montana. He wants the ":rights" of being a US Citizen; resident of the State of Montana(an elected state of Montana official, at that); and the member of a sovereign "nation", but the responsibilities of none of those entities.

He disgraces his Tribe and his State of Montana Office. And, as is stated by Blurhawk, driving drunk is not a victimless crime.

Bluehawk
Bluehawk

Only a complete fool would call driving drunk a "victimless crime". If the tribe refuses to control their problems, then a higher level of government has to.

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