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Law School Case Brief

Donnelly v. United States - 228 U.S. 243, 33 S. Ct. 449 (1913)

Rule:

Nothing can more appropriately be deemed "Indian country," within the meaning of those provisions of the U.S. Revised Statutes that relate to the regulation of the Indians and the government of the Indian country, than a tract of land that, being a part of the public domain, is lawfully set apart as an Indian reservation.

Facts:

Plaintiff in error, Donnelly, who was not an Indian, was charged with shooting and killing an Indian, a Chickasaw, in the bed of the Klamath River, which was located within Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in northern California. Donnelly argued that the crime was not committed in "Indian country" within the meaning of U.S. Rev. Stat. § 2145; Donnelly further argued that, even if the bed of the Klamath River was considered to be in "Indian country," the killing of an Indian by a white man, when committed upon a reservation, was not punishable in the federal courts. 

Issue:

  1. Was the crime committed in “Indian country” within the meaning of U.S. Rev. Stat. § 2145?
  2. Was murder, when committed upon a reservation by a white man against an Indian, punishable in the federal courts?

Answer:

1) Yes. 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

On review, the United States Supreme Court held that the Indian reservation included the river bed and that the term "Indian country" included land lawfully set apart as an Indian reservation. The offense with which Donnelly was charged was punishable in the federal courts because U.S. Rev. Stat. § 2145 applied to crimes either by or against Indians within the Indian country. Section 2145, in connection with U.S. Rev. Stat. § 5339, included the offense of murder committed against the person of an Indian within an Indian reservation by a person not of Indian blood.

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