Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tribal officers can pursue suspects off the reservation

The state Supreme Court recently ruled in State v. Eriksen that tribal police officers can pursue motorists beyond the limits of tribal lands after having observed them commit a traffic infraction on the reservation.

A Lummi Nation Police Department officer witnessed a motorist on the reservation driving at night with high beams and drifting across the center divider. He began following the vehicle and activated his emergency lights. After traveling a quarter mile the car pulled into a gas station located off the reservation. The police officer witnessed the driver, Loretta Eriksen, hop over the car’s center console and into the passenger’s seat. The officer detained Eriksen until a Whatcom County police deputy arrived, who arrested her for DUI.

Ms. Eriksen was convicted for DUI. The trial court said Lummi Nation’s inherent sovereign power authorizes tribal police to continue in “fresh pursuit” of offenders who drive off the reservation. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to resolve this issue of first impression.

The Supreme Court said that the Lummi Nation is a sovereign nation with inherent authority to enforce its laws and detain Indians or non-Indians who violate those laws. While courts have long recognized the right of law enforcement officers to cross jurisdictional lines when in hot pursuit of a violator, this doctrine had not previously been applied to sovereign tribal nations as well.

Justice Richard Sanders wrote the unanimous opinion of the court.

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