Uncounseled Tribal Court Convictions: The Sixth Amendment, Tribal Sovereignty, and the Indian Civil Rights Act

Tribal courts tasked with the prosecution of Native American defendants are not constrained by many Constitutional provisions, including the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal proceedings. Currently, the Indian Civil Rights Act only requires representation in tribal court prosecutions of indigent defendants that may lead to incarceration of more than one year. State and federal courts require the opportunity of representation for all defendants in criminal proceedings. This discrepancy between the rights afforded in tribal courts and in state and federal courts lead to unique legal issues for Native American defendants indicted in federal court after being convicted without counsel in a tribal court. Native Americans prosecuted under federal re-peat-offender statues could be exposed to harsher penalties based on prior uncounseled tribal con-victions. Thus, even if a Native American lacked representation in tribal court, those convictions might be used as predicate offenses for the purposes of federal repeat-offender laws. Different approaches to this issue are presented from the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits. This Note ad-dresses the reasoning of each Circuit and offers a Recommendation that balances tribal sovereignty concerns, Sixth Amendment ramifications, and justice implications for both victims and defendants in the tribal court system.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.