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New Mexico Supreme Court Says Road Separating Pueblos Not “Indian Country” February 29, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.
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State v. Quintana, No, 29,909 (N.M. Jan. 25, 2008)

Issue(s): State Jurisdiction > Crimes >> Indian Country; Indian Country > Definitions >> Venetie Test

If not within the exterior boundaries of a reservation, land is “Indian Country” only if it qualifies as a “dependent Indian community.” New Mexico charged Quintana with several crimes stemming from a car accident that occurred on State Road 16. The road acts as the boundary between the Cochiti and Santo Domingo Pueblos and is the only northern access to Cochiti Pueblo. Is the road “Indian Country” for purposes of state criminal jurisdiction?

The New Mexico Supreme Court said no. New Mexico does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian Country. As a border, the Road technincally did not fall inside any reservation. But, if the road were a “dependent Indian community,” it would be classified as Indian Country. Under Venetie, land must meet two requirements to qualify as a dependent community. First, the federal government set the land aside for Indian use. Second, the federal goverment supervises the land.

Quintana argued that, as a practical matter, the Road satisfied the set-aside provision because it is the sole northern access point to the Pueblo. The Road is on federal land and the Forest Service granted the State an easement to build the Road. The Court, however, countered that Venetie requires explicit action by Congress or the executive. Neither Congress nor the executive ever took any explicit action to make the Road “Indian Country.” Finding no set-aside, the Court did not consider whether the land enjoyed federal supervision. According to the Court, the Road was not Indian Country, and the State could exercise criminal jurisdiction over Quintana.

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