PIERRE, S.D. - The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case that could
define or alter jurisdiction by off-reservation law enforcement officers
while on tribal land.
The state of South Dakota appealed to the high court after the state
Supreme Court ruled a county law enforcement officer could not engage in
free pursuit of a tribal member onto the Pine Ridge Reservation. Any
evidence obtained while stopped on the reservation is not allowed in
The South Dakota Supreme Court justices ruled in April that without a
warrant or permission from the tribal authorities, a law enforcement
officer cannot pursue a suspect onto the reservation. A deputy sheriff from
a nearby county pursued Nicholas Cummings, an Oglala tribal member, onto
the Pine Ridge Reservation. The court ruled that any information acquired
while on the reservation could not be used against Cummings.
In March 2003 Cummings was pursued for traveling 71 miles per hour in a 65
mph zone. Deputy Sheriff Steven McMillin testified that Cummings
accelerated to 90 mph during the pursuit. Cummings was charged with
speeding and eluding an officer, but any evidence obtained while on the
reservation was not allowed by a court magistrate.
"An attack by state authority was dodged and no further jurisdiction was
whittled away from the tribe through the erosion of an individual tribal
member's rights," said Rena Hymans in a prepared statement. Hymans is
Cummings' attorney, a member of the Abourezk law firm in Rapid City.
The state argued that Nevada v. Hicks changed a South Dakota law giving the
law enforcement officers jurisdiction on the reservations. However, the
state Supreme Court disagreed and said State v. Spotted Horse had declared
it was illegal for any law enforcement officer off the reservation to enter
the reservation to arrest or seize evidence from a tribal member.
The state court stated: "Nothing in current federal enactments has
overruled the general proposition that the state has no jurisdiction to act
on the reservations in South Dakota. It is difficult to maintain the
proposition that the state after having failed to effectively assert
jurisdiction when given the opportunity by Congress, now suddenly gains
that jurisdiction through no action of the state or the tribe."
Attorney General Larry Long said officers generally stopped a suspect on
reservation land and then determined which authority, the state or the
tribe had jurisdiction. The suspects were then turned over to the
"It leaves us with an inconsistent application of the law," Long said.
The state Supreme Court in 1990 instructed the state to negotiate
jurisdiction with the tribes, no such negotiation was attempted. The only
tribe with a compact with the state that allows state jurisdiction is the
Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Tribe.
The argument used by the state in this case before the state Supreme Court
evoked Nevada v. Hicks. That case involved a search warrant issued by a
non-tribal court authority to search a tribal member's home located on
tribal land. In the Cummings case no such warrant was issued by any
In the case State v. Spotted Horse occurred on the Standing Rock
Reservation. A non-reservation officer pursued the suspect onto the
reservation, arrested the man and transported him to Mobridge, a nearby
town not located on a reservation. The court ruled in favor of Spotted
Cummings still must face the charges of speeding and eluding, both
misdemeanors. While he was stopped on reservation land he was handcuffed
and placed in full view of a camera located in the deputy's vehicle. He was
taped saying he had been drinking, but nothing on that tape can be used in
court, as was ruled by the state Supreme Court and since a hearing was
denied by the U.S. Supreme Court it will remain as the law.