United States v. Lara

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United States v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193 (2004) was a case where the United States Supreme Court held that an American Indian could be prosecuted by both an Indian tribe and the United States government without implicating the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.


Duro case

In 1990, the Supreme Court decided Duro v. Reina,[1] which held that an Indian tribe did not have jurisdiction to try a non-tribal member for a crime that was committed on the reservation.[2] After that decision, Congress passed an amendment[3] to the Indian Civil Rights Act[4] which clarified that tribal courts had jurisdiction over all Indians, whether members of that individual tribe or not. This was known as the Duro fix.[2][5]

Facts of the case

Billy Jo Lara was a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who in 2001 lived with his wife on the Spirit Lake Reservation.[6] His wife was a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe.[fn 1] After several incidents of misconduct, Lara was excluded from the reservation. Lara returned to the reservation on June 13, 2001 and was arrested for public intoxication.[7] After being transported to the police station, Lara was informed of the exclusion order. Lara then struck Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Police Officer Byron Swan.[6][7] Lara plead guilty at the tribal court to the charge of "violence to a policeman" and received a 90-day sentence.[fn 2][2][6]

Lower courts

Although Lara had been sentenced by the tribal court, Lara was charged in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota with assaulting a federal officer.[8] As a BIA officer, Swan was both a tribal officer and a federal officer. Lara agreed to have the case heard before a magistrate, and he filed two motions to dismiss, the first being based on double jeopardy and the second on selective prosecution grounds.[7] These motions were denied, and Lara made a guilty plea conditioned on his right to appeal.


  1. The tribe was a Sisseton Wahpeton band of the Dakota people.
  2. Lara also plead guilty to two additional tribal charges, resisting arrest and public intoxication. In total, he received a 155-day sentence.[7]


  1. Duro v. Reina,   495 U.S. 676 (1990).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Pommersheim, Frank [2009]. Broken Landscape : Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution. Oxford University Press, 251. 
  3. Pub.L. 101-511, Title VIII, § 8077(b), (c), Nov. 5, 1990, 104 Stat. 1892.
  4. 25 U.S.C. § 1301.
  5. Williams, Robert A. [2005]. Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, And the Legal History of Racism in America. University of Minnesota Press, 150. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Williams [2005], 153.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 United States v. Lara,   2001 WL 1789403, *1 (D.N.D. Nov. 29, 2001).
  8. Pommersheim [2009], 251-52.