A New Mexico tribal member failed to convince the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals May 10 that an assault conviction would affect his future tribal employment, in Ronald F. Romero v. Donna K. Goodrich, warden, Gallup McKinley Adult Detention Center and Pueblo of Nambe’.
Romero, of the Pueblo, was sentenced in November 2010 to four years imprisonment after being indicted by a federal grand jury for gouging the eye of a BIA officer at the Ute Mountain jail in Towaoc, Colorado in 2008.
When he was indicted and convicted of that crime, he was serving time in Towaoc for a conviction in 2007 of 12 counts of assault and battery involving household members and a peace officer, as well as related charges, all at Romero’s parents’ home on the Pueblo.
For those assaults, the tribal court had sentenced him to eight years’ imprisonment and a $7,050 fine, a sentence he had unsuccessfully appealed to the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals.
Romero invoked the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) in petitioning the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico to release him from tribal custody or hold an evidentiary hearing about the legality of his tribal court detention.
The tribal court had by then released him from custody and it was noted that ICRA permits federal courts to grant releases rather than granting federal courts the scope to test convictions’ legality.
Romero’s sentence and fine for the 12 counts of assault in 2007 were dismissed as moot in District Court in 2011 because the tribal court had commuted his sentence to time served given that his assault on the BIA officer would result in a lengthy sentence and he would no longer be a danger to the pueblo.
Romero continued to protest his conviction of the 2007 crime because of its possible impact on the length of future sentences and on potential employment.
It was solely the issue of whether Romero’s petition should have been dismissed by the District Court as moot, or in question, that brought him before the 10th Circuit, where a three-judge panel found his petition was moot partly because he failed to show there were “sufficient collateral consequences” from his tribal court conviction, despite his sentence’s commutation.
To maintain a protest of his conviction he would have had to “demonstrate a specific, continuing injury—a collateral consequence—of his conviction to show a continuing case or controversy,” the 10th Circuit said.
The judges were unconvinced of his assertions that his conviction “can be used to enhance a sentence in a future case” or “deprives him of eligibility for tribal office and for employment in tribal casinos.”
They noted that in District Court Romero did not dispute that “his long history of prior criminal convictions demonstrates that he long ago forfeited any civil liberties his conviction might otherwise deprive him of.”
“He is a career criminal with federal and misdemeanor convictions in several courts, both state and tribal, and such assertion remains undisputed by Romero,” attorneys for Nambe’ said. “The Nambe’ Tribal Court considered Romero’s lack of remorse, his failure to take responsibility for his actions and his long list of prior infractions of the law which included several violent episodes.”