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(Cite as: 2006 WL 1229587 (Minn.App.))


Court of Appeals of Minnesota.

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,


Joelyn Rose HART, Appellant.

No. A05-1320.

May 9, 2006.

Review Denied July 19, 2006.

Cass County District Court, File No. T4-04-4066.

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and Earl E. Maus, Cass County Attorney, Gregory J. Bloomstrom, Assistant County Attorney, Walker, MN, for respondent.

Nathaniel J. Zylstra, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Faegre & Benson, LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for appellant.

Considered and decided by STONEBURNER, Presiding Judge; WILLIS, Judge; and CRIPPEN, Judge.



FN* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

*1 Appellant Joelyn Rose Hart argues that the district court erred in determining that respondent State of Minnesota has jurisdiction to enforce its driver's license and proof of insurance laws against an American Indian who commits these offenses on a road located on the reservation of a tribe of which she is not an enrolled member. Because the Minnesota Supreme Court has already decided this issue, and we defer to that court as to any reevaluation of its previous holding, we affirm.


Appellant is an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. On December 17, 2004, a police officer stopped her while she was driving a vehicle in Cass Lake, Minnesota, a town within the boundaries of both Cass County and the Leech Lake Reservation. The officer stopped appellant for a cracked taillight and then ticketed her for driving without a driver's license, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 171.02, subd. 1 (2004), and driving without insurance, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 169.791, subd. 2 (2004). Appellant had neither a driver's license nor automobile insurance on December 17, 2004.

Subsequently, appellant moved to dismiss the charges against her, arguing that the state does not have subject matter jurisdiction to prosecute Indians for violations of Minnesota regulatory laws that occur within Indian territory. In April 2005, the district court denied appellant's motion.

Appellant waived her right to a jury trial, and the parties submitted the case to the court on stipulated facts. In June 2005, the district court found appellant guilty of driving without a license, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 171.02, subd. 1, and driving without insurance, in violation of Minn.Stat. § 169.791, subd. 2. At the subsequent sentencing hearing, the district court imposed a $100 fine for driving without a license and a $1,000 fine ($500 conditionally stayed) and 50 days in jail, stayed, for failure to provide proof of insurance.


This court reviews issues of subject matter jurisdiction de novo. State v. R.H.M., 617 N.W.2d 55, 58 (Minn.2000). Whether the State of Minnesota has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters involving American Indians is governed by federal statutes and caselaw. Gavle v. Little Six, Inc., 555 N.W.2d 284, 289 (Minn.1996). Generally, state law does not apply to tribal Indians on their reservation absent express consent from Congress. R.M.H., 617 N.W.2d at 58 (citing California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 207, 107 S.Ct. 1083, 1087, 94 L.Ed.2d 244 (1987)).

In Public Law 280, Congress granted Minnesota broad criminal subject matter jurisdiction over all Indian lands in the state except the Red Lake Reservation. Pub.L. No. 83-280, 67 Stat. 588 (1953) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1162 (2000)). In contrast, Congress granted the states only limited civil jurisdiction over Indian affairs, and it did not grant the state general civil regulatory authority. Pub.L. No. 83-280, 67 Stat. 589 (1953) (codified as amended at 28 U.S.C. § 1360 (2000)); State v. Stone, 572 N.W.2d 725, 729 (Minn.1997) (citing Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 384-88, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2108-11, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976)). But the United States Supreme Court has not adopted a per se rule that precludes states from exercising jurisdiction over tribes and tribal members absent express congressional consent. Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 214-15, 107 S.Ct. at 1091.

*2 ?[U]nder certain circumstances a State may validly assert authority over the activities of nonmembers on a reservation, and ... in exceptional circumstances a State may assert jurisdiction over the on-reservation activities of tribal members.? New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe, 462 U.S. 324, 331-32, 103 S.Ct. 2378, 2385, 76 L.Ed.2d 611 (1983). In addition, absent express consent from Congress, a state may exercise its authority over tribal Indians only if federal law does not preempt it from doing so.  R.H.M., 617 N.W.2d at 58; see also Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 216, 107 S.Ct. at 1092 (determining whether federal law preempted the state from regulating bingo on a tribal reservation).

Federal law preempts state jurisdiction ?if it interferes or is incompatible with federal and tribal interests reflected in federal law, unless the state interests at stake are sufficient to justify the assertion of state authority.? Mescalero, 462 U.S. at 334, 103 S.Ct. at 2386. Thus, ?[t]he inquiry is to proceed in light of traditional notions of Indian sovereignty and the congressional goal of Indian self-government, including its ?overriding goal? of encouraging tribal self-sufficiency and economic development.?  Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 216, 107 S.Ct. at 1092.

Appellant argues that Minnesota does not have jurisdiction to enforce its driver's license and car insurance laws against an Indian who commits offenses on a road located on a tribal reservation, even if the Indian is not an enrolled member of that tribe. In R.M.H., the Minnesota Supreme Court decided this issue, determining that the state has jurisdiction to enforce its speeding and driver's license laws against a nonmember Indian. 617 N.W.2d at 65. To reach its conclusion, the court engaged in a two-step analysis. Id. at 59.

First, the supreme court determined that Congress has not expressly consented to Minnesota's jurisdiction over R.M.H.'s traffic offenses. Id. The court held that ?R.M.H.'s driving without a license and speeding offenses are civil/regulatory and do not fit within [Public Law 280's] express grant of jurisdiction to Minnesota.? Id. at 60. Second, the supreme court considered whether federal law preempts state jurisdiction by balancing the federal interest of tribal sovereignty with the state's interest over civil/regulatory traffic offenses. Id. at 60-65. Citing United States Supreme Court cases Duro v. Reina, 495 U.S. 676, 110 S.Ct. 2053, 109 L.Ed.2d 693 (1990), United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 98 S.Ct. 1079, 55 L.Ed.2d 303 (1978), and Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191, 98 S.Ct. 1011, 55 L.Ed.2d 209 (1978), the supreme court concluded that ?regulation of nonmember Indians warrants different consideration than does regulation of member Indians.? Id. at 61-63. The court noted that tribal sovereignty is at its strongest when a state threatens the ?tribal self-government, self-sufficiency, and economic development.? Id. at 64. The supreme court then determined that ?tribal interest in self-governance is limited to relations between a tribe and its own members, not all Indians generally.? Id.

*3 The supreme court concluded that regulating traffic offenses against nonmembers of the tribe does not threaten the economic development and self-sufficiency of the tribe. Id. at 65. Finally, the court noted that federal law does not pervasively regulate traffic offenses; therefore, ?there is no federal regulatory scheme so pervasive as to preclude state jurisdiction.?  Id. at 65. Thus, the supreme court concluded that ?Minnesota's interests, when compared with the federal interests, are more than sufficient to justify state jurisdiction over civil/regulatory traffic offenses committed on a state highway on an Indian reservation by an Indian who is not an enrolled member of the governing tribe.? Id. at 65.

Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court issued United States v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193, ----, 124 S.Ct. 1628, 1637, 158 L.Ed.2d 420 (2004), stating that Wheeler, Oliphant, and Duro are no longer determinative because Congress ?enacted a new statute, relaxing restrictions on the bounds of the inherent tribal [prosecutorial] authority that the United States recognizes.? In that case, the Supreme Court addressed whether the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits the federal government from prosecuting a nonmember Indian for a federal offense after he pleaded guilty in tribal court to a crime related to the same incident. Lara, 541 U.S. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1629. Because the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar successive prosecutions brought by separate sovereigns, the Court sought to determine whether the Indian tribe and the federal government are separate sovereigns. Id. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1632.

The Court noted that it held in Duro that a tribe does not possess inherent or sovereign authority to prosecute a nonmember Indian. Id. (citing Duro, 495 U.S. at 691-92, 110 S.Ct. at 2063). But soon after the court issued Duro, Congress enacted new legislation that specifically authorized tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Indians, including nonmembers.  Id. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1632; see also 25 U.S.C. § 1301 (2000) (defining ?powers of self-government? as ?the inherent power of Indian tribes ... to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Indians?). Because Congress had enlarged Indian tribes' inherent authority to prosecute nonmember Indians for misdemeanors, the Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause did not prohibit the federal government from proceeding with its prosecution because the Indian tribe acted in its capacity as a sovereign authority. Id. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1639.

Appellant argues that because Congress expanded Indian tribes' sovereign prosecutorial authority, R.M.H. is no longer good law and Minnesota no longer has jurisdiction to prosecute nonmember Indians for civil/regulatory offenses. Appellant contends that Lara dissolved the distinction between member and nonmember Indians, and therefore the district court in this case should have based its decision on Stone, in which the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the state lacks jurisdiction to enforce its traffic and driving regulations against member Indians. 572 N.W.2d at 731. Although it is true, as appellant contends, that Lara affects the underlying rationale of R.M.H., there are ample reasons for this court to conclude that the prerogative remains with the Minnesota Supreme Court to determine whether Lara mandates a redetermination of R.M.H.

*4 First, the holding in Lara is limited in scope. The United States Supreme Court addressed only whether a tribe has jurisdiction to bring a criminal misdemeanor prosecution against an Indian who is not a member of that tribe. See Lara, 541 U.S. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1631. The Court did not address Indian tribes' inherent sovereignty over prosecutions for civil/regulatory offenses. More importantly, the Court did not address states' authority to prosecute nonmember Indians under criminal or civil law or whether states may have concurrent jurisdiction over nonmember Indians. As the Court stated, ?the change at issue here is a limited one.... [T]his case involves no interference with the power or authority of any State.? Id. at ----, 124 S.Ct. at 1636.

Second, the Minnesota Supreme Court did not base its decision in R.M.H. solely on the notion that Indian tribes have a weaker sovereign interest over nonmember Indians than over member Indians. The court recognized that Congress has not expressly granted Minnesota jurisdiction to prosecute driver's license and speeding offenses that occur on tribal lands. 617 N.W.2d at 60. Thus, the court noted that the state could only have jurisdiction if the court determined that the operation of federal law did not prevent Minnesota from exercising jurisdiction. Id.

Weighing the federal interest in tribal sovereign authority and the state's interest in regulating traffic on its highways, the supreme court determined that the federal interest of tribal sovereignty is diminished when the state exercises jurisdiction over nonmember Indians. Id. at 64. Thus, the court determined that federal law does not pervasively regulate traffic laws to the extent that state regulation would obstruct federal policies. Id. at 65. The supreme court noted that the federal government has not imposed a detailed traffic regulation system on tribal reservations and that it has expressed little interest in traffic law enforcement on state-operated and maintained highways. Id. And the court emphasized the state's strong interest in regulating traffic on its highways. Id. (citing Raymond Motor Transp., Inc. v. Rice, 434 U.S. 429, 443, 98 S.Ct. 787, 795, 54 L.Ed.2d 664 (1978) (?In no field has this [federal] deference to state regulation been greater than that of highway safety regulation.?)).

Thus, although Lara may have affected the court's rationale in R.M.H., we defer to the Minnesota Supreme Court for any reevaluation of whether R.M.H. remains good law and conclude that the state continues to have jurisdiction to enforce traffic laws against nonmember Indians who commit traffic offenses on tribal lands.