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Case Note: United States v. Antonio

Case Note: United States v. Antonio

United States v. Antonio, No. 18-2118, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657 (10th Cir. Sept. 4, 2019).

Introduction

United States v. Antonio involves federally recognized tribal land less than 20 miles away from the University of New Mexico School of Law. This case shows the complexities of criminal jurisdiction on tribal land, and the controversies of what “tribal land” is under federal law. In this case, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals considered the unique history of the Pueblo of Sandia and affirmed the lower court’s judgment that the criminal act at issue took place within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo. The Court held that the lower federal district court had jurisdiction to hear the case, and the conviction against the Appellant was proper.

Parties

The United States is the Plaintiff-Appellee. The Defendant-Appellant is Jeffrey Antonio (“Antonio”). Antonio is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and therefore federal jurisdiction applies if the act at issue occurred on land classified as Indian Country. For offenses occurring within Indian Country, any Indian who commits an offense against the person or property of another Indian or other person is subject to federal jurisdiction.[1]

The United States argued that federal jurisdiction applied because the act took place on Indian Country. Antonio argued that federal jurisdiction was improper because the land on which the act took place was not Indian Country. This case was argued before Chief Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich, Senior Judge David M. Ebel, and Judge Carlos F. Lucero of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Chief Judge Tymkovich wrote the opinion.

Facts

The Appellant was under the influence of alcohol while driving and crashed his vehicle into another at the intersection of New Mexico Highway 313 and Wilda Drive, a few miles north of Albuquerque. A passenger in the other vehicle was killed. The land where the accident occurred is owned by a non-Indian man, Pedro C. Garcia, who received the tract of land from an Act of Congress in the early 1900s.

Procedural History

In March of 2016, a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico indicted the Appellant on one count of second-degree murder.[2] “The United States filed a motion in limine asking the district court to rule that the site of the accident was in Indian Country to conclusively establish federal jurisdiction.”[3] The motion was also filed in the District of New Mexico.[4] The Appellant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The lower court denied the motion to dismiss.

Holdings

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District of New Mexico’s judgment. The four holdings included that (1) the federal district court had jurisdiction to hear the case because the offense occurred in Indian County covered under the Indian Pueblo Lands Act Amendments of 2005; (2) the district court’s preliminary jurisdictional ruling prior to issuing jury instructions was proper; (3) the jury had sufficient evidence to convict the Appellant; and (4) there was no plain error as the district court properly instructed the jury that it must not consider whether the Appellant was guilty of involuntary manslaughter unless it found him not guilty of second-degree murder.[5]

Analysis

Establishing jurisdiction was important for all four holdings. To do so, the court cited 18 U.S.C. section 1151, titled, “Indian country defined,” the main authority for federal criminal jurisdiction issues on tribal land. The court also cited United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28, 34 S. Ct. 1, 58 L. Ed. 107 (1913), which was a precursor to the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924, “determin[ing] that Pueblo lands were within Indian Country and subject to federal jurisdiction even though the lands were not formally designated as a reservation.”[6] The court then emphasized that the later Indian Pueblo Lands Act conferred federal jurisdiction and “clarified . . . [that] the United States has jurisdiction ‘over offenses committed anywhere within the exterior boundaries of any grant from a prior sovereign, as confirmed by Congress’ or the Court of Private Land Claims to a Pueblo Indian tribe of New Mexico.”[7] As the extensive historical reviews in the opening brief,[8] answer brief,[9] reply,[10] district court opinion,[11] and 10th Circuit ruling[12] established, “[o]n May 16, 1748, [Spanish] Lieutenant General Don Bernardo Antonio de Bustamente y Tagle . . . conveyed a land grant to the Sandia Pueblo.”[13] In Lieutenant General Bustamante’s memorialized words, it is clear that the grant came from a “prior sovereign,” and therefore Sandia Pueblo’s land history satisfies the jurisdictional pre-requisite contained in the 2005 amendments. The boundaries were later confirmed by an act of Congress in 1858.[14]

The Indian Pueblo Lands Act Amendments of 2005 addressed the issue of checkerboard jurisdiction, because after Sandoval and despite the passage of 18 U.S.C. section 1151, non-Indian holdings transferred after the 1924 Act “would not necessarily be subject to federal jurisdiction.”[15] The jurisdictional issue arose as to whether the accident occurred on land covered by the Indian Pueblo Lands Act Amendments of 2005 because the precise tract of land at issue is known as Private Claim 364, which is owned by a non-Indian individual, Pedro C. Garcia, after it was confirmed to him “‘under the provisions of the Act of Congress on June 7, 1924 (43 Stat. 636)’”.[16]  

            The United States argued that Mr. Garcia’s land was still within the exterior boundaries of the Sandia Pueblo, despite Mr. Garcia privately owning the land. Antonio argued that the 1858 congressional confirmation of land “should be construed as only the relinquishment of the United States’s title and not as a confirmation of the exterior boundaries.”[17] The court accepted the United States’s argument, holding that “[b]ecause the offense took place on Private Claim 364, it took place within the exterior boundaries of the original land grant by a sovereign . . . [and] Congress had confirmed the boundary . . .”[18] It was a straightforward textual interpretation of the 2005 amendments and the affirmation was a substantially shorter opinion than the district court’s. Considering jurisdiction was no longer an issue, the Appellant’s argument regarding jury instructions was rejected, and so were his arguments about the lack of sufficient evidence and good cause.

Conclusion

            The implications of this case are important for the tribes of New Mexico and tribes who “received” their land from a prior sovereign. The outcome is especially important because the Pueblo of Sandia retained land that was disputed by the actions of the losing party. The 1748 land grant and the Indian Pueblo Lands Act Amendments of 2005 were the primary authority to establish jurisdiction. Federal jurisdiction reigned supreme, although the Pueblo of Sandia still retains its jurisdiction. The outcome of the case is just one example of the expansion of tribal land.

Max Spivak is a 2L at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Originally from west Los Angeles (Tongva land), Max’s academic and professional interests include environmental and cultural preservation, peacebuilding, and pro-poor economics. Max has worked with the Southwest Women’s Law Center, DNA–People’s Legal Services, the Department of Defense, and Invariant Group, a bi-partisan government relations firm. He is excited to see where his future after law school takes him.


[1] 18 U.S.C. § 1153(a).

[2] 18 U.S.C. § 1111.

[3] United States v. Antonio, No. 18-2118, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657, at *2 (10th Cir. Sept. 4, 2019).

[4] United States v. Antonio, No. 16-1106 JB, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85436 (D.N.M. June 5, 2017).

[5] Antonio, supra note 3, at *1.

[6] United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28, 34 S. Ct. 1, 58 L. Ed. 107 (1913).

[7] Antonio, supra note 3, at *7 (citing Indian Pueblo Lands Act Amendments of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-133, 119 Stat. 2573 (Dec. 20, 2005)), codified at 25 U.S.C. § 331 (retaining emphasis).

[8] Appellant’s Opening Brief, United States v. Antonio, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657 (No. 18-2118), https://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/opening-brief.pdf.

[9] Appellee’s Answer Brief, United States v. Antonio, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657 (No. 18-2118), https://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/answer-brief.pdf.

[10] Appellant’s Reply Brief, United States v. Antonio, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657 (No. 18-2118), https://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/reply.pdf.

[11] Antonio, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85436, https://www.nmcourt.fed.us/Drs-Web/view-file?unique-identifier=0008387193-0000000000.

[12] Antonio, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26657, https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/18/18-2118.pdf.

[13] Antonio, supra note 4, at 2.

[14] Antonio, supra note 3, at *9 (citing 11 Stat. 374, 374 (1859)).

[15] Antonio, supra note 4, at 2.

[16] Id. at 7 (citing Pedro C. Garcia Patent 1069186 (executed Dec. 20, 1933)).

[17] Antonio, supra note 3, at *10.

[18] Id. at *8-9.

By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

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