July 14, 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Albuquerque, NM – Attorney General Raúl Torrez recently filed an amicus brief in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, joining the United States and several New Mexico Pueblos and the All Pueblo Council of Governors in support of affirming the District Court’s ruling pertaining to the Pueblos’ sovereignty and federal jurisdiction.
“I am proud to stand with our Pueblos and the All Pueblo Council of Governors on this very important case,” said AG Torrez. “Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s past rulings on tribal sovereignty, it is critical for the state of New Mexico to do everything it can to support and respect the Pueblos and tribal communities. This case can provide clarity and confirmation of the Pueblos’ sovereignty and the federal government’s jurisdiction within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblos.”
On June 18, 2021 the United States Attorney’s Office, District of New Mexico, obtained a conviction against Douglas Smith for involuntary manslaughter for shooting a woman who was a tribal member within the exterior boundaries of the Santa Clara Pueblo. Smith filed an appeal challenging the federal jurisdiction and tribal sovereignty where the murder occurred. He argued that the lands where the crime occurred are not considered “Indian Country” and therefore, the federal government lacks jurisdiction to prosecute the offense.
The amicus brief argues that the Pueblo Lands Act clearly confirms federal jurisdiction over all lands within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblos, regardless of ownership. As the brief discusses, Congress amended the Pueblo Lands Act in 2005 specifically to avoid piecemeal, parcel-by-parcel determinations of jurisdiction and instead clarify the land at issue as Indian Country under the jurisdiction of the Pueblos and the federal government.
Additionally, the amicus brief explains how the District Court’s ruling safeguards the state’s interest in ensuring public safety and protecting all crime victims.
A copy of the filed amicus brief is below.