Iowa Supreme Court adds a case on jurisdiction over criminal cases at Meskwaki Settlement

by Rox Laird | July 9, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court scheduled an additional oral argument on July 10 in an appeal that raises questions about whether jurisdiction over criminal cases on the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County belongs to the Tribe, to the State of Iowa or to the federal government.

The State appeals a ruling by the Tama County District Court dismissing for lack of jurisdiction criminal charges against Jessica Rae Stanton for trespassing, possession of drug paraphernalia and violation of a no-contact order. The charges were filed by a Meskwaki Nation Police officer at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama.

Acting sua sponte, or on the court’s own motion, Judicial Magistrate Richard Vander Mey dismissed the charges, saying neither tribal police nor the State had jurisdiction to bring the charges in State court for criminal violations on the Meskwaki Settlement. “Any charges for conduct upon the Meskwaki Settlement can be pursued in tribal court or federal court,” the judge wrote.

Stanton argues in a brief filed with the Iowa Supreme Court that jurisdiction over the Tama tribal lands, which has shifted back and forth between the federal government and the State of Iowa several times since 1896, has now reverted back to the federal government as a result of recent legislation.

The State, in a brief filed by Attorney General Tom Miller, urges the Court to reverse the District Court’s dismissal, saying that, despite shifting jurisdictional questions over the decades, the law is clear today: The State has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Meskwaki Settlement where — as in this case — neither the alleged perpetrator nor the victim is a member of the Tribe.

“If the District Court is correct,” the Attorney General’s office says in its brief, “then no laws govern what would otherwise be criminal acts by Stanton. Crimes committed on the Settlement by nonmembers against other nonmembers or crimes without a victim would be unpunishable — a chaotic state indeed.”

The argument is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 10.


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