NAFUSA Members File Amicus Brief in Indian Case

NAFUSA members Tom Heffelfinger, Paul Charlton, David Iglesias, Brendan Johnson and Tim Purdon, joined by former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, have filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in U.S. v. Bryant. In a brief authored by Robins Kaplan, the amici curiae identify themselves as former United States Attorneys with experience in the prosecution of violent crimes, including domestic violence offenses, in “Indian Country.” The issue in Bryant is whether uncounseled tribal court domestic violence convictions can be used as predicate offenses to support a federal “Habitual DV Offender ” charge under 18 U.S.C Sec. 177(a).

The amici urge that they can provide the Court with “a unique perspective on 18 U.S.C. § 117(a). Each of us has served as a top-ranked federal prosecutor, each of us has firsthand experience with the prosecution of domestic violence offenses in Indian Country, and each of us recognizes the need for a tool like Section 117(a) to target habitual domestic violence offenders who pose the greatest risk of reoffending. Domestic violence is an escalating crime, with repeat offenders tending to inflict more serious physical injuries upon their victims over time. Research also suggests that treating escalating domestic assaults with escalating criminal justice consequences reduces offender recidivism, which in turn saves lives. U.S. Attorney’s Offices can help to reduce domestic violence, and potentially save lives, on reservations by prosecuting domestic violence crimes before they become homicides. Allowing the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand would eliminate 18 U.S.C. § 117(a) as a critical law enforcement tool for prosecuting habitual 5 domestic violence offenders. Amici curiae recognize how Section 117(a) can help federal prosecutors protect victims of domestic violence who live on reservations by preventing habitual offenders from continuing their escalating patterns of abuse. Therefore, we urge the Court to preserve this tool as a necessary component of the comprehensive efforts to reduce violent crime on reservations, and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”

US v Bryant amicus brief