Tribal members lose immunity ruling

  • Updated: July 20, 2011 - 8:35 PM

Minnesota can order civil commitment of sexually dangerous members of American Indian tribes, the state's Supreme Court ruled.

Tribal members claiming sovereignty are not immune from the state's statute ordering the civil commitment of sexually dangerous people, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Wednesday.

The decision upholds an earlier appeals court ruling that the state of Minnesota has the jurisdiction to commit Jeremiah Jerome Johnson, a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and Lloyd Robert Desjarlais, a member of the Leech Lake Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

The men, whose criminal records include sexual assaults both on and off reservations, contested their civil commitment based on a lack of jurisdiction because they were enrolled tribal members. Both Cass County District court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals denied their requests.

The Supreme Court concurred with the lower courts, reasoning that the state's civil commitment statute is imposed on private individuals. That makes it more similar to cases of contract or divorce rather than those affecting sovereignty, like the power to tax. The former, they wrote, falls under jurisdiction that the U.S. Congress gave the state.

The opinion also said the state's interests justify the men's commitment, and that each of the men's bands do not supply treatment for people deemed sexually dangerous. The court pointed out that representatives from both of the men's bands did not weigh in on the matter.

In 2007 the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that enrolled members of Minnesota Indian tribes must register if they've been convicted of a predatory offense even if they live on a reservation.

ABBY SIMONS

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