GM 11-106

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Consecutive Sentencing of Criminal Defendants

On August 17, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held the Pascua Yaqui Tribe (Tribe) did not violate the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) when it sentenced a criminal defendant to consecutive terms of incarceration that exceeded the one-year maximum allowed under the ICRA for “any one offense.”

The case, Miranda v. Anchondo, was initially brought in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. The defendant, Beatrice Miranda, had chased persons on the reservation on foot with a knife while intoxicated. She was apprehended by tribal police and subsequently charged with eight counts of Pascua Yaqui Tribal Code violations – including endangerment, threatening and intimidating, aggravated assault, and disorderly conduct. The Tribe’s trial court sentenced Miranda to a total of 910 days incarceration: two one-year terms, two 90-day terms, two 60-day terms, and two 30-day terms, minus 114 days for time served. Miranda appealed to the Tribal Appellate Court, which affirmed her conviction on all counts, and affirmed the consecutive sentencing (called “stacking” when the total time exceeds the maximum for a single offense.)

Miranda then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court, as permitted by the ICRA. The district court granted her petition, releasing her from jail. The 9th Circuit has reversed that decision. The circuit court’s decision focused on the meaning of “any one offense” in Section 1302(7) of the version of ICRA in effect at that time. Miranda argued that “any one offense” meant any single criminal transaction (meaning all the chargeable actions took place at the same time). Thus, Miranda argued, because all of her Tribal Code violations arose out of the same transaction, she could not be sentenced to longer than one-year for the entire criminal transaction.

The Tribe argued that “any one offense” has a plain meaning – allowing for a one-year maximum for each criminal charge. The circuit court agreed. The court held that in 1968, when the ICRA was enacted, “offense” plainly and unambiguously meant an individual criminal violation and the prefatory words “any one” did not modify “offense” as used in the ICRA, except only to indicate the sentencing cap applies to a single “offense,” however “offense” is defined. Thus, Miranda’s 910-day consecutive sentence did not violate the ICRA one year limitation.

With the enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010, the practical impact of this case is limited. As we have previously reported, the Tribal Law and Order Act modified the sentencing limitations in the ICRA, raising the limit for a single offense to three years. Tribes can now, under certain circumstances, consecutively sentence criminal defendants to terms up to a maximum of nine years. The revised ICRA also explicitly defines “offense” to mean “a violation of criminal law.” The court in the Miranda decision made mention of this change in a footnote to the opinion, and noted that it was interpreting the pre-2010 language of the ICRA. The ruling apparently would, however, apply to post-2010 law convictions since, if followed, it would allow consecutive three-year sentences in the circumstances the court decided were appropriate for consecutive one-year sentences.

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding this development.