TOWAOC, Colorado – The Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause has been asked for review regarding the case of Navajo Nation member Merle Denezpi.
Denezpi was arrested on rape and sexual assault allegations brought forth by victim V.Y., a Navajo member.
V.Y. was arrested prior for public intoxication and outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine. During her ride to jail, she and the officer passed by the house where she had told the officer the events that took place there.
The victim underwent an examination where over 20 injuries were discovered on her body including her private area.
Denezpi was charged with three offenses: terroristic threats, contrary to 25 C.F.R. § 11.402; false imprisonment, contrary to 25 C.F.R. § 11.404; and assault and battery, contrary to 6 Ute Mountain Ute Code (UMUC) 2 by the Court of Indian Offenses of Ute Mountain Ute Agency for crimes committed on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.
This agency is considered a “CFR” court, because it is governed by regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations.
Denezpi entered an Alford plea to the assault and battery charges in exchange for dismissal of terroristic threat and false imprisonment charges on Dec. 6, 2017. He was sentenced to 140 days incarceration.
An Alford plea is a guilty plea in which a defendant maintains their innocence but admits that evidence against them would likely result in a guilty verdict.
Six months after completing his sentence, the United States District of Colorado charged Denezpi by indictment with violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241(a)(1) and (2), 1153(a) based on the same conduct underlying previous charges from the CFR Court.
A federal grand jury found Denezpi guilty and he received a sentence of 30 years. The district entered its judgment on June 5, 2019 and 12 days later Denezpi filed his notice of appeal.
A federal district court judge decided that tribes derive their power separately from the federal government upholding his conviction from the previous year.
Now, the case raises an issue of “dual-sovereignty,” a doctrine that allows for two sovereign nations to both prosecute a crime that is against their laws, regardless of double jeopardy protections.
“Because CFR courts function, at least in part, as a ‘federal agency,’ the Double Jeopardy clause prohibits a second prosecution by another federal agency, in this case the Department of Justice,” his petition argued.
As of Oct. 21, the case has been granted review by the U.S. Supreme Court for determining the matter of whether CFR courts are a branch of the Federal Government courts or whether they sustain tribal sovereignty.
This is a developing story.