Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

Ex parte Crow Dog - 109 U.S. 556, 3 S. Ct. 396 (1883)


U.S. Rev. Stat. §§ 2145, 2146 provide in part that the general laws of the United States as to the punishment of crimes committed in any place within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, except the District of Columbia, shall extend to the Indian country. Section 2145 shall not be construed to extend to crimes committed by one Indian against the person or property of another Indian, nor to any Indian committing any offense in the Indian country who has been punished by the local law of the tribe, or to any case where by treaty stipulations the exclusive jurisdiction over such offences is or may be secured to the Indian tribes respectively.


An inmate, an American Indian, was tried and convicted for the murder of another Indian that occurred on their reservation. The inmate brought an original writ of habeas corpus following his conviction for murder and his sentence to death, claiming that the district court lacked jurisdiction to try him and that the offense of which he was convicted was not an offense under the laws of the United States because the victim was a fellow Indian and the murder occurred on an Indian Reservation.


Should the Court grant the inmate's petition for habeas corpus?




The Supreme Court of the United States granted habeas relief to the inmate. Although the reservation was within the territory covered by the district court's jurisdiction, U.S. Rev. Stat. § 2146 precluded the inmate's indictment in the district court. Section 2146 stated that U.S. Rev. Stat. § 2145, which made the criminal laws of the United States applicable to Indian country, did not extend to crimes committed by one Indian against another or to crimes for which an Indian was already punished by the law of his tribe. The Court held that Rev. Stat. § 2146 had not been repealed directly or by implication. Instead, it reflected the longstanding policy that crimes by Indians against each other were left to be dealt with by each tribe for itself according to its local customs. The Court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to find or try the indictment against the inmate, that the conviction and sentence were void, and that the inmate's imprisonment was illegal.

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