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Dawes v. Eriacho – Navajo Supreme Court May 16, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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“You don’t have to write what you say, but you have to say something”—Navajo Supreme Court clarifies Navajo Code of Criminal Procedure Rule 15(d).

Dawes v. Eriacho, No SC-CV-09-08 (Nav. Sup. Ct. May 5, 2008)

Issue(s): Criminal Procedure > Pretrial Detention >> Bail or Bond >>> Requirements

Navajo Code of Criminal Procedure Rule 15(d) requires judges state the reasons for denying bail “for the record.” At Dawes’ initial appearance, the district court allegedly denied bail because Dawes lived in Albuquerque and therefore was a flight risk. From detention, Dawes filed a written request for release, but the district court did not respond. Did the district court violate Rule 15(d)?

Yes, said the Navajo Supreme Court. Previously, Navajo case law was not clear if the district court must give written reasons for denying bail to a defendant under Rule 15(d). In Apachito v. Navajo Nation, the Court held that, while written reasoning is unnecessary, the judge must at least state her rationale in a recorded bail hearing. But later, Seaton v. Greyeyes held that the lack of written reasoning violated the defendants due process rights. Seaton was about the right to a speedy trial. The lack of written reasoning was just one of several factors the Court considered, concluding that delays in holding Seaton’s trial violated due process. The Court, here, affirmed the basic rule of Apachito explaining that the Rule’s primary purpose is to assure that the defendant understands why she will remain in detention. Thus, the Court held that, by itself, the district court’s failure to explain in writing its decision to deny bail did not justify Dawes’ release.

The prosecutor alleged that the district court verbally told Dawes why it denied her bail request. The district court recorded the exchange, but neither party introduced the transcript into the record before the Court. Dawes did not deny that the district court verbally advised her of its reasons. Essentially, the Court found the record on this point too sparse and did not decide whether the apparent verbal exchange satisfied Rule 15(d).

Instead of remanding, however, the Court turned to another fact and broadened the scope of Rule 15(d). After the initial denial, Dawes, from jail, filed a written request for release. The prosecution responded, but the district court completely ignored the pleadings. The Court said that the district court’s failure to hear Dawes’ request was equivalent to denying bail without any reasons “for the record.” Thus, the Court held that the district court violated Rule 15(d), and therefore Dawes’ due process rights, and ordered Dawes’ release.

Notes on Dawes

1. It was interesting to see the Court confront inconsistency in its case law. While Apachito seems to be the correct rule, the Court’s analysis distinguishing Seaton was not entirely convincing. In fact, later in the opinion, the Court cites Seaton for the proposition that a Rule 15(d) violation is a due process violation. Because the Court didn’t outright overrule the relevant part of Seaton, it seems to leave the door open for future argument that writing might be required under some circumstances. So, future Rule 15(d) cases may not be as predictable as the Court’s opinion might suggest.
2. Another thought -provoking part of the opinion was this alleged “verbal exchange.” While the Court’s refusal to rule on an incomplete record is unsurprising, what would have happened if the record contained the transcript? How would the Court square the district court’s verbal reasoning with the district court’s failure to respond to Dawes’ second release request? My guess is that the Court would have required the district court to do something with Dawes’ second request; that the failure to respond violated due process. It would be more difficult, however, for the Court to say that the district violated Rule 15(d). If it did rely on Rule 15(d), it would seem to read a right to multiple bail hearings into the Rule.

Experimenting with a little bit different format for case summaries. We’ll see how it goes…

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