In United States v. Shavanaux (10-4178) the Tenth Circuit held that prior misdemeanor convictions obtained in a tribal court without the right to appointed counsel could be considered prior convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 117(a), which provides for an enhanced sentence for domestic assault perpetrators with two prior convictions. The District Court held that the prior convictions comported with the Constitution, but that that use of these otherwise valid convictions in a subsequent federal court proceeding would violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
On appeal the Tenth Circuit upheld the portion for the District Court’s opinion regarding the validity of the underlying convictions, noting that “the Bill or Rights does not constrain Indian tribes” and so tribal convictions cannot violate the Sixth Amendment. (In so doing, it noted a circuit split on this issue with the Ninth Circuit). It then held, in a conclusory fashion, that because the Sixth Amendment did not apply to the underlying convictions, their use in a later prosecution “would not violate the Sixth Amendment, anew or otherwise.”
The Court then went on to consider “whether under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, prior convictions which were obtained through procedures which did not comply with, but also did not violate, the Constitution may be introduced in subsequent prosecutions in federal court.” The Court concluded that the judgments at issue were obtained through due process and thus appropriately recognized under principles of comity. Accordingly, it concluded that their later use in a federal prosecution did not violate the Constitution.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly) held that all “tribal convictions obtained in compliance with ICRA [the Indian Civil Rights Act] are necessarily compatible with due process of law.”