UTE INDIAN TRIBE

P. O. Box 190
Fort Duchesne, Utah 84026
Phone (435) 722-5141 • Fax (435) 722-5072


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January 20, 2011
Uintah County Commission
152 E. 100 N.
Vernal, Utah 84078
Re: Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction over Rights-of-Way for United States,
State and County Roads
Dear Board of Commissioners:
On behalf of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation ("Tribe"), we
request the support and cooperation of the Uintah County Commission to
immediately cease and desist any and all further patrolling and arrest and detention
of members of the Ute Indian Tribe by State and county officers on Tribal lands or
roads, and over rights-of-way for United States, state and county roads running
through and across the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.
Based on the plain language of 18 U.S.C.A § 1151 and current case law, State
officers do not possess criminal jurisdiction over highways or roads running through
reservation lands or alternatively lands meeting the definition of Indian country.
The United States Congress defined Indian Country for the purposes of criminal
jurisdiction as:
(a) All land within the limits of any Indian reservation under
the jurisdiction of the United States Government,
notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and, including
rights-of-way running through the reservation, .. . and (c)all
Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been
extinguished, including rights-of-way running through same.
18 U.S.C.A. § 1151.
In addition, for jurisdictional purposes on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation the
Court in Ute V concluded that "Indian country extends to all trust lands, the National
Forest Lands, the Uncompahgre Reservation, and the three disputed categories of
non-trust lands that remain within the boundaries of the Uintah Valley Reservation."
Ute Indian Tribe v. Utah, 114 F.3d 1513, 1530-1531 (10th Cir. 1985) (hereinafter
"Ute V'). The three disputed categories of non-trust land include:
(1) Lands apportioned to the mixed blood Utes under the Ute
Partition Act, Act of Aug. 27,1954, Pub. L. No. 97-698, ch.
1009,68 Stat. 868 (codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 677-677aa);
(2) Lands allotted to individual Indians that have passed into
fee status after 1905; and
(3) Lands that were held in trust after the Reservation was
opened in 1905 but that since have been exchanged into fee
status by the Tribe for then-fee (now trust) lands in an effort
to consolidate its land holdings pursuant to the Indian
Reorganization Act, Act of June 18, 1934, ch. 576, 48 Stat.
984 (codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 461-79) and the Indian Land
Consolidation Act of 1983, Pub. L. No. 97-459, 96 Stat. 2517
(codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 2202-11).Ute V, 114 F.3d at 1529.
As stated above, Indian country encompasses all trust lands within the limits of an
Indian reservation, all Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which have not been
extinguished, including rights-of-way for purposes of criminal jurisdiction. Title 18
U.S.C. § 1151 does not distinguish between fee and usufructuary rights-of-way.
Thus, a tribe retains criminal jurisdiction over any right-of-way running through
Indian country as that term is defined.
Here, any United States highway, county road or individual right-of-way (fee or
usufructuary) running through the Uintah and Ouray Reservation as defined by the
Court in Ute V and U.S. code is Indian country for the purposes of criminal
jurisdiction. Therefore, the Ute Indian Tribe retains jurisdiction over said rights-of­
way. This is further acknowledged by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal in Ross v.
Neff, 905 F.2d 1349 (10th Cir. 1990) (hereinafter "Ross").
We are concerned that the rights-of-way granted by the Tribe for United States
highways, state and county roads are being unlawfully used by law enforcement
officers in Duchene and Uintah Counties to carry out unauthorized law enforcement
activities, which has had a detrimental effect on the Tribe's criminal jurisdiction.
Here, the rights-of-way (fee or usurfructurary) for all roads (United States highways,
county or access) running within the exterior boundaries of the Uintah and Ouray
Reservation are Indian country within the meaning of the federal criminal code and
Ute V. The granting of an easement for a right-of-way does not confer criminal
jurisdiction to the State of Utah or its officers. Therefore, the Ute Indian Tribe retains
criminal jurisdiction over United States highways, county and access roads running
through the exterior boundaries of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and all other
lands identified as coming within the meaning of Indian country pursuant to the
federal criminal code and Ute V.
Based on case law and federal statute, state officers do not have criminal
jurisdiction over Indians with Indian Country including rights-of-way through
reservations. In addition, without a valid warrant or consent of the tribe, state
officers cannot legally pursue tribal members onto the reservation to gather
evidence. Additionally, as a general rule, state officers may not make a valid arrest
outside their territorial jurisdiction. Furthermore, state officers have no authority to
investigate criminal activity involving Indians occurring within Indian country.
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As stated above, for criminal jurisdictional purposes, rights-of-way are included in
the definition of Indian country. Therefore, any road, be it a United States highway,
county road or individual access road, built upon a right-of-way located within the
reservation is Indian country. The fact that the right-of-way remains within Indian
country divests the State of jurisdiction. Thus, lacking jurisdiction over United
States highways, county and access roads running through Indian Country, State
officers should not be making arrests of Indians on those portions of roads running
through the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Tribe urges the Uintah County
Commission to immediately cease and desist any and all further patrolling and
detention of members of the Tribe by State and county officers over rights-of-way
for United States, state and county roads running through and across the Uintah
and Ouray Reservation, and other trust or tribal lands on the Reservation.
If you do not immediately instruct your law enforcement officers to cease and desist
from engaging in further law enforcement activities that result in the unlawful arrest,
detention or harassment of our tribal members, we will seek to have all pending
criminal prosecutions associated with such arrests removed to federal court for
violations of our tribal members civil and due process rights. In addition, we will
seek immediate legal action against all law enforcement officers and other public
officials involved in the unlawful execution of police powers on the reservation for
civil rights violations of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and other related legal claims. In
addition, the Tribe will seek to fully enforce its jurisdictional authority to the
maximum extent permitted by Federal law on the reservation, and will further review
and evaluate all ongoing activities occurring on the reservation that in the past may
not have been subject to tribal regulatory jurisdiction and control based on a
disclaimer of the Tribe's interest.
Based on the issues we have raised in this letter, we request that the Uintah County
Commission give this matter special priority and take all steps necessary to
expedite our request.
Ve Truly Yours,
Richard Jen
Chairman, Uintah and Ouray Tribal Business Committee
Cc: Utah State Governor Gary Herbert
American Civil Liberties Union
U.S. Attorney Trina Higgens
U.S. Dept. of Justice Rose Salamonca
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Larry Echohawk
BIA Superintendent Daniel Picard
Ute Indian Tribe Police Chief Jay Mountain Lion
BIA Special Agent in Charge Dist. 3 S. MacDonald
Uintah County Attorney
Duchene County Attorney
Ute General Counsel
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