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On June 13, 2016, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Bryant. Michael Bryant, Jr., has multiple tribal-court convictions for domestic assault. For most of those convictions he was sentenced to terms of imprisonment, none of them exceeding one year’s duration. He did not have the benefit of counsel with respect to these convictions, though they complied with the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Having made further domestic assaults in 2011, Bryant was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §117(a), which makes it a federal crime for any person to “commi[t] a domestic assault within...Indian country” if the person has at least two prior final convictions for domestic violence rendered “in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.” He argued that the Sixth Amendment precluded use of his prior, uncounseled, tribal-court misdemeanor convictions to satisfy §117(a)’s predicate-offense element. Although the district court rejected Bryant’s argument the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with him, vacating his conviction and directing dismissal of the indictment. 

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that because Bryant’s tribal-court convictions occurred in proceedings that complied with ICRA and were therefore valid when entered, use of those convictions as predicate offenses in a §117(a) prosecution does not violate the Constitution. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Thomas F. Gede, who is Principal at Morgan Lewis Consulting LLC and of counsel at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

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