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Law School Case Brief

United States v. William Rogers - 45 U.S. 567 (1846)


It is the duty of the Supreme Court of the United States to expound and execute the law as it finds it, and the Court thinks it too firmly and clearly established to admit of dispute, that the Indian tribes residing within the territorial limits of the United States are subject to their authority, and where the country occupied by them is not within the limits of one of the states, Congress may by law punish any offence committed there, no matter whether the offender be a white man or an Indian.


In 1845, a federal grand jury in Arkansas indicted defendant William S. Rogers for the murder of Jacob Nicholson. Both Rogers and Nicholson were alleged, in the indictment, to be Caucasian men, not Native American men. According to the indictment, the murder was committed within the state of Arkansas in area that bordered lands belonging to the Cherokee Tribe of Native Americans. At trial, Rogers filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting that, in 1836, he moved onto Cherokee land and had joined that Tribe, and thus, he claimed, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over him. The United States filed a demurrer. The trial court judges were divided in opinion as to Rogers' plea, and Rogers filed a motion for an order to discharge him from imprisonment. The trial court overruled the motion and remanded him to the custody of the marshal. The trial court certified to the Supreme Court of the United States several questions regarding the trial court's jurisdiction over Rogers.


Did the trial court have personal jurisdiction over Rogers?




The Supreme Court ruled that the matters stated in Rogers' plea did not constitute a valid objection to the jurisdiction of the trial court, and that, if he was found guilty, he was subject to the punishment prescribed by federal statute and he was not intended to come within the statutory exemption for crimes committed by one Native American against the person or property of another Native American. The Court explained that Native American tribes residing within the United States' territorial limits were subject to the authority of United States. Consequently, the fact that Rogers had become a member of Cherokee Tribe was no objection to the trial court's jurisdiction and no defense to the indictment.

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