Court Overturns Non-Indian Conviction

DENVER—The conviction of a cockfight spectator was vacated April 11 in federal appeals court, which ruled there is no federal jurisdiction for crimes in Indian country if there is neither an Indian victim nor an Indian perpetrator.

Robert M. Langford, who appealed to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court, was convicted in federal court in Oklahoma of being a spectator at a cockfight held in 2006 on the rural trust land of a Kiowa allottee, placing it in Indian country as defined by law.

About 60 law enforcement officers from the FBI, BIA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol raided the cockfight and cited some 70 people for being spectators, a misdemeanor offense.

Between five and seven of the spectators were Indian and everyone else, including Langford, was non-Indian, as the only testimony in the case indicated, according to the appeals court.

States possess exclusive criminal jurisdiction over crimes in Indian country if victim and criminal are both non-Indian, the appeals court ruled, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has said, “Within Indian country, State jurisdiction is limited to crimes by non-Indians against non-Indians, and victimless crimes by non-Indians.”

The appeals court ruling does not create a safe haven for “fanatic cockfighters,” as the government contended, because the state of Oklahoma has the jurisdiction to prosecute such victimless crimes, the court said.

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