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Appeals Court: State trumps tribe in sex offender case

  • Article by: Joy Powell
  • Star Tribune
  • August 14, 2007 - 11:21 PM

Minnesota appellate judges on Tuesday ruled that state law can be used to commit a dangerous sexual offender -- even if he is a member of an Indian tribe or band living on a reservation, where the state typically has no jurisdiction.

A three-judge panel found that the state's interest in protecting the public, and in treating dangerous sex offenders, trumps all.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that Indian tribes keep attributes of sovereignty over their members and territory.

The question over who has jurisdiction in such a case came before a Minnesota Court of Appeals panel recently after a Beltrami County judge threw out the state commitment order against John Beaulieu III. He's been a convicted sexual offender since youth.

In 1999, when Beaulieu was 14 or 15, he was found to be delinquent in federal court for aggravated sexual abuse of a child. He spent nearly two years at a treatment program in Huron, S.D.

After being discharged from that, Beaulieu was admitted to the Leo Hoffman Center in St. Peter, Minn., where he stayed from May 2002 to November 2003. But there, court papers say, he threatened two female staff members and eventually pleaded guilty to terroristic threats.

At both places, Beaulieu had sexual contact with other adolescents.

In August 2003, once out of federal custody, Beaulieu received approval to have Beltrami County Human Services take over his case and began day treatment. He was released that November to a group home. But he repeatedly "acted out" sexually and was jailed in Devils Lake, N.D.

Beltrami County petitioned to civilly commit Beaulieu as a sexually dangerous person. His commitment would continue without a specified end date.

As a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Beaulieu contended, he belongs to a sovereign Indian nation with its own self-government, as spelled out under federal law.

Beaulieu, representing himself, asked a Beltrami County judge to throw out the commitment judgment. That judge agreed in 2006.

The state appealed, arguing that public safety was at stake. The Minnesota attorney general's office said it did have "personal jurisdiction," in that Beaulieu had been in state treatment programs, and it asked the state Court of Appeals to take up the issue.

Beaulieu argued that the state lacks jurisdiction to commit him, either personally as an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band, or under "subject-matter jurisdiction" in which he faced commitment as a dangerous sex offender.

But Edward Toussaint Jr., chief judge of the appeals court, and Judges Christopher Dietzen and Jill Hallbrook disagreed, saying the state did have authority.

They reversed the lower court's decision and sent the case back to Beltrami County District Court, where the civil commitment order was first issued, for action.

Joy Powell • 612-673-7750 • jpowell@startribune.com

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