US v Wheeler 435 US 313 1978: whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the 5th Amendment bars the prosecution of an Indian in a federal district court under the Major Crimes Act when he had previously been convicted in a tribal court

The question presented in this case is whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the 5th Amendment bars the prosecution of an Indian in a federal district court under the Major Crimes Act when he had previously been convicted in a tribal court of a lesser included offense arising out of the same incident. This court has reaffirmed the principle that a federal prosecution does not bar a subsequent state prosecution of the same person for the same acts, and a state prosecution does not bar a federal one. The basis for this doctrine is that prosecutions under the laws of separate sovereigns do not in the language of the Fifth Amendment subject the defendant for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy. The ‘dual sovereignty’ concept does not apply however in every instance where successive cases are brought by nominally different prosecuting entities. The power to punish offenses against tribal law committed by tribe members, which was part of the Navajos primeval sovereignty, has never been taken away from them, and is not attributable to any delegation to them of federal authority. It follows that when the tribe exercises this authority, it does so as part of its retained authority and not as an arm of the federal government.

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