Hagen v. Utah

LOCATION:Colorado Springs, Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 92-6281
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Utah Supreme Court

CITATION: 510 US 399 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1993
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1994

Jan Graham – on behalf of the Respondent
Jeanne S. Whiteing – for the Ute Indian Tribe as amicus curiae urging reversal
Martin E. Seneca, Jr. – on behalf of the Petitioner
Ronald J. Mann – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
Robert S. Thompson III – for the Ute Indian Tribe as amicus curiae urging reversal
Sandra Hansen – for the Ute Indian Tribe as amicus curiae urging reversal

Facts of the case


Media for Hagen v. Utah

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 23, 1994 in Hagen v. Utah

Sandra Day O’Connor:

The second case is Hagen against Utah which comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Utah.

The petitioner, Hagen, a Native American was charged in Utah State Court with distributing a controlled substance in the Town of Myton, Utah.

Myton is within the original boundaries of the Uintah Indian Reservation, but it is situated on land that was opened to non-Indian settlement in 1905.

The State Appellate Court relying on a prior decision of the Tenth Circuit held that Myton was an “Indian country” as that term is defined by statute and, therefore, that the State Courts lack jurisdiction over the petitioner.

The Utah Supreme Court reversed holding that Congress had diminished the reservation boundaries by opening the reservation to non-Indian settlement and that Myton was outside the boundaries of the present reservation and, thus, petitioner’s offense was subject to state criminal jurisdiction.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk, we affirm.

We decline to consider petitioner’s argument that the State of Utah should be collaterally estopped from relitigating the reservation boundaries.

That argument was not presented in the petition for writ of certiorari and indeed, was expressly disavowed by petitioner at an earlier stage in this litigation.

On the merits, prior decisions have established that three factors are relevant to the determination whether Congress has diminished a reservation boundary.

We look to the statutory language used opening the Indian lands to settlement.

We looked to the contemporaneous understanding of that statute and we look to the subsequent demographics of the area.

Any ambiguities are resolved in favor of the Indians.

In this case, a 1902 statute provided that the open lands shall be restored to the public domain.

This language evidences a congressional purpose to terminate reservation status to that land.

This baseline intent to diminish was not changed by the subsequent passage of the 1905 statute that actually opened the reservation lands for settlement.

The statutory language and structure, we think, requires that the two Acts be read together.

The historical evidence clearly indicates the contemporaneous understanding that the reservation would be diminished in size.

Finally, practical acknowledgment that the reservation was diminished is demonstrated by the current population demographics in the disputed area.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Souter has joined