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,

In The News

Health

Voting

Supreme Court

Justices Defer Harvard Case on Race in College Admissions
Supreme Court
Justices Defer Harvard Case on Race in College Admissions

WASHINGTON (AP) — With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions. The justices on Monday put off a decision about whether they will hear an... Read More

Justices Reject Johnson & Johnson Bid to Overturn $2B Talc Verdict
Supreme Court
Justices Reject Johnson & Johnson Bid to Overturn $2B Talc Verdict
June 10, 2021
by TWN Staff

The Supreme Court this week decided to leave in place a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who claim they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson talc products. As is their custom, the justices did not comment Tuesday on why they rejected Johnson & Johnson's... Read More

Supreme Court Limits Prosecutions for Unauthorized Computer Use
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Limits Prosecutions for Unauthorized Computer Use
June 7, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday makes it harder to impose liability on workers who use their employers’ computers for unauthorized purposes. The ruling restricts the Justice Department's authority to prosecute unauthorized computer use under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It also... Read More

Supreme Court Rejects Review of Male-only Military Draft
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Rejects Review of Male-only Military Draft

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday decided not to review a lawsuit asking whether it's sex discrimination for the government to require only men to register for the draft when they turn 18. The challenge, originally brought by a men's rights group, asserted that the... Read More

Gorsuch Holds 9th Circuit Went Too Far in Accepting Immigrant Testimony
Supreme Court
Gorsuch Holds 9th Circuit Went Too Far in Accepting Immigrant Testimony
June 1, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court tossed a pair of decisions from the 9th U.S. Circuit, holding the appellate court went too far in assuming that an immigrant's testimony was credible unless an immigrant judge said otherwise. Tuesday’s ruling involved a pair of... Read More

Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Police in Traffic Stop
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Police in Traffic Stop
June 1, 2021
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... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top