Denezpi v. United States

Filed on:

On January 18, 2022, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of the United States in United States v. Merle Denezpi. The NIWRC’s brief was joined by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization comprised of Tribal Nations and their citizens. The petitioner, Denezpi, asked the Supreme Court to address whether a Court of Indian Offenses (“CFR court”) constitutes a federal agency such that the U.S. Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause precludes his subsequent prosecution in a United States District Court for the same conduct underlying his conviction in CFR court. In its amicus brief, the NIWRC argued in support of the United States’s position that under the “separate sovereigns doctrine” Denezpi’s dual prosecutions did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause. The Supreme Court took up a similar legal question regarding the separate sovereigns doctrine in Gamble v. United States in 2019, a case in which the NIWRC also filed an amicus brief. In that case, the Supreme Court found the separate sovereigns doctrine is constitutional and remains in force (that case concerned dual prosecutions in federal and state courts, and the NIWRC’s amicus brief educated the Supreme Court on the potential implications of a decision eroding the separate sovereigns doctrine).

The Denezpi brief is the NIWRC’s ninth amicus brief filed pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Sovereignty Initiative, an initiative aimed at educating the courts, including the United States Supreme Court, on the connection between sovereignty and safety for Native women and the concomitant need to protect and preserve VAWA’s  restoration of Tribal sovereign authority to prosecute non-Indian offenders. The Denezpi case necessitated the filing of a NIWRC amicus brief since the underlying case involves a sexual assault committed against a Native woman on Tribal lands, and furthermore, because an adverse decision declaring CFR courts to be “federal” would significantly impede the ability of Tribal Nations utilizing CFR courts to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault.

The brief was filed on January 18, 2022. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Denezpi on February 22, 2022. The case will likely be decided before the end of June 2022.

Read more about the Denezpi Amicus Brief in NIWRC's February Edition of Restoration, coming soon!