9/21/2007Appeals Court Rules Indian Tribes May Seize Cars
Federal appeals court ruling upholds the right of Indian casinos to confiscate automobiles.
Indian tribes have the legal authority to confiscate automobiles belonging to any customer at a casino according to a ruling Wednesday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
The case began on June 15, 2004 when Russell E. Miner parked his 2004 Hummer H2 sport utility vehicle at a casino operated by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation on tribal lands within the state of Oklahoma. Miner was there to gamble with his brother, Ricky Dean Miner.
On June 16, casino security noticed that Miner's $55,000 SUV had parked illegally in a handicapped space. After a search of the vehicle, casino forces observed 6.8 grams of a suspicious white powder along with $1463 in cash. Muscogee (Creek) Lighthorse Police were called in to impound the vehicle and its contents. Two weeks later, Miner pleaded guilty to "disorderly conduct: possession of a dangerous substance" and paid a $334 civil fine. After this, the tribal court ordered the permanent forfeiture of the cash and the Hummer to the Muscogee Nation.
Miner appealed the ruling, arguing that the tribe had no jurisdiction over him as a non-Indian. The Muscogee Nation Supreme Court upheld the seizure on April 29, 2005, citing the US Supreme Court decision Montana v US which stated: "A tribe may also retain inherent power to exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within its reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe."
Miner appealed to the US District Court, which found on October 10, 2006 that seizing $56,500 in property over something that merits a mere $334 fine was excessive and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Wednesday's appellate decision overruled the district court on the simple ground that Indian tribes enjoy sovereign immunity allowing them to operate without the scrutiny of a federal court, even when constitutional protections are denied to US citizens.
"The district court erred in denying the Nation's motion to dismiss," the Tenth Circuit ruled.
The Muscogee Nation operates casinos in Tulsa, Muscogee, Okmulgee, Okemah, Duck Creek and Eufaula. The full text of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.