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State v. Saros

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 8, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Thomas James Saros, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Itasca County District Court File No. 31VB11421

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Muhar, Itasca County Attorney, Heidi M. Chandler, Assistant County Attorney, Grand Rapids, Minnesota (for respondent).

Megan Treuer, Frank Bibeau, Regional Native Public Defense, Cass Lake, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.

STAUBER, Judge

On appeal from his convictions on stipulated facts for minor driving offenses that are civil-regulatory in nature, appellant argues that the district court erred by denying his motion to dismiss and to transfer the proceedings to tribal court because the district court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over a tribal member who commits a minor traffic offense on one of his tribe's reservations. Because the district court correctly concluded that it had subject-matter jurisdiction under State v. Davis, 773 N.W.2d 66 (Minn. 2009), cert. denied 130 S.Ct. 2111 (2010), we affirm.

FACTS

Appellant Thomas Saros is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT). The MCT is a federally recognized Indian tribe consisting of the Ojibwe Indians of the White Earth, Leech Lake, Fond du Lac, Bois Forte, and Grand Portage Reservations and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians. Appellant resides within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation, but is an enrolled member of the White Earth Band.

On February 8, 2011, appellant was cited for driving with expired registration and no proof of insurance, both traffic offenses. Appellant received the citations within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation. Appellant subsequently moved to dismiss the charges for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and to transfer the proceeding to the Leech Lake Tribal Court.

Following a hearing, the district court concluded that it had subject-matter jurisdiction under Davis. Thus, the district court denied appellant's motion to dismiss. Appellant then proceeded with a stipulated-facts trial and was convicted of both offenses. This appeal followed.

DECISION

Appellant challenges the district court's decision that it had subject-matter jurisdiction to enforce the citations for traffic violations appellant received on the Leech Lake Reservation. "Subject-matter jurisdiction is a court's power to hear and determine cases that are presented to the court." State v. Losh, 755 N.W.2d 736, 739 (Minn. 2008). "State jurisdiction over Indians is governed by federal statutes or case law." State v. R.M.H., 617 N.W.2d 55, 58 (Minn. 2000). This court reviews issues of jurisdiction de novo. Davis, 773 N.W.2d at 68.

Traditionally, Indian tribes have "retain[ed] attributes of sovereignty over both their members and their territory." California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 207, 107 S.Ct. 1083, 1087 (1987) (quotation omitted). This "tribal sovereignty is dependent on, and subordinate to, only the Federal Government, not the States." Id. (quotation omitted). In Public Law 280, Congress provided Minnesota with broad criminal and limited civil jurisdiction over Indian reservations in the state, except for the Red Lake Reservation. State v. Stone, 572 N.W.2d 725, 728 (Minn. 1997); see 18 U.S.C. § 1162(a) (2010); 28 U.S.C. § 1360(a) (2010). "The purpose of this grant was to combat the problem of lawlessness on certain ...


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