facebook linkedin twitter

Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Police in Traffic Stop

June 1, 2021 by Dan McCue
Outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that tribal police officers can stop and search non-Native Americans on tribal lands for potential violations of state or federal law.

The justices unanimously reversed an appellate ruling in favor of a non-Native motorist who was charged with drug-related crimes after a tribal officer searched his pickup truck on a public road that crosses the Crow reservation in Montana.

The Supreme Court has previously held that tribal police have little authority over non-Native Americans, a point acknowledged by Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion for the unanimous court.

But he also noted there was an important exception. Tribes may act, he wrote, quoting a 1981 decision, when a non-Native American’s “conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security or the health or welfare of the tribe.”

That exception, Justice Breyer wrote, “fits the present case, almost like a glove.”

“To deny a tribal police officer authority to search and detain for a reasonable time any person he or she believes may commit or has committed a crime would make it difficult for tribes to protect themselves against ongoing threats,” he wrote. “Such threats may be posed by, for instance, non-Indian drunk drivers, transporters of contraband or other criminal offenders operating on roads within the boundaries of a tribal reservation.”

The case involved a traffic stop in 2016 in which Officer James Saylor of the Crow Tribe Police Department came upon a pickup truck with its headlights on and motor running, parked on the shoulder of U.S. Route 212.

The driver, Joshua Cooley, had watery, bloodshot eyes, Saylor said. Cooley also had two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun in the pickup, as well as methamphetamine.

Saylor called for help from federal and county officers, who eventually arrested Cooley.

Charged with federal drug and gun offenses, Cooley moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that tribal police officers lacked the authority to investigate violations of state or federal law by non-Native Americans on public highways in Indian reservations.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Cooley, saying that non-Native Americans can be detained only if evidence of a crime is “apparent” or “obvious.” 

The Justice Department appealed during the Trump administration and maintained its position after President Joe Biden took office.

The case is United States v. Cooley, No. 19-1414,

Supreme Court

GOP-led States See Texas Law as Model to Restrict Abortions

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican states that have passed increasingly tough abortion restrictions only to see them blocked by... Read More

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican states that have passed increasingly tough abortion restrictions only to see them blocked by the federal courts have a new template in an unusually written Texas law that represents the most far-reaching curb on abortions in nearly half a century.... Read More

Divided High Court Leaves Texas Abortion Law in Place

WASHINGTON (AP) — A deeply divided Supreme Court is allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — A deeply divided Supreme Court is allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, for now stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the nation's second-largest state. The court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal... Read More

Texas 6-Week Abortion Ban Takes Effect, With High Court Mum

A Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect at midnight, but the Supreme Court has yet to... Read More

A Texas law banning most abortions in the state took effect at midnight, but the Supreme Court has yet to act on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold. If allowed to remain in force, the law would be the most dramatic restriction on... Read More

Supreme Court Allows Evictions to Resume During Pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court's conservative majority is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden... Read More

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court's conservative majority is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The court's action ends protections for roughly 3.5 million people... Read More

August 26, 2021
by Tom Ramstack
Supreme Court Ruling Coming Soon On Federal Eviction Moratorium

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court is expected to rule within days on a lawsuit by associations of realtors that seek... Read More

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court is expected to rule within days on a lawsuit by associations of realtors that seek to overturn the federal extension of the eviction moratorium until Oct. 3. In a hearing on Monday, the realtors argued the moratorium violates their contractual rights... Read More

August 25, 2021
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Orders 'Remain in Mexico' Policy Reinstated

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday evening refused to block a court ruling ordering the Biden administration to reinstate... Read More

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday evening refused to block a court ruling ordering the Biden administration to reinstate a Trump-era policy that forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S. With the court’s three liberal justices in dissent, the unsigned... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top