United States v. Dion

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 85-246
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 476 US 734 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1986

Jeffrey P. Minear - on behalf of the petitioner
Terry L. Pechota - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Dion

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1986 in United States v. Dion

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in United States against Dion.

Mr. Minear, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the question in this case is whether an Indian may assert tribal hunting rights as a defense to prosecution for taking wildlife in violation of federal conservation statutes.

The focus in this case is on protection of our national symbol, the bald eagle, a majestic but endangered species.

Despite extensive federal protection under the Bald Eagle Act and the Endangered Species Act, the eagle remains the frequent object of black market trade.

In 1980, the Department of Interior initiated a major undercover operation to halt the illegal killing and sale of eagles in South Dakota.

Respondent, a Yankton Sioux Indian, was among those apprehended.

At trial, the United States produced extensive evidence that respondent had engaged in a series of eagle transactions over a two-year period in which he had offered to kill, killed, and sold eagles for profit to undercover agents posing as Indian crafts dealers.

The jury found respondent guilty of killing bald eagles, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, and of selling eagles and other protected birds in violation of the Bald Eagle Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The United States Court of Appeal for the Eighth Circuit sitting en banc partially vacated respondent's conviction.

The court concluded that Yankton Sioux Indians have an implied treaty right to hunt eagles for noncommercial purposes.

The court further concluded that neither the Bald Eagle Act nor the Endangered Species Act demonstrated sufficient Congressional intent to limit that right.

The court stated that the United States could retry respondent, but the government would be required to prove that respondent had taken the eagles for commercial purposes.

The United States' position in this case is straightforward.

We submit--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Minear, may I ask the status of what it is we are reviewing?

I guess the en banc court remanded to a panel of the Eighth Circuit.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

--That is correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And the panel on remand found that the takings were for commercial purposes.

And I take it that is not contested.

That is not an issue any more.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

We don't believe that it is contested.

This is a finding that the Court of Appeals panel did make.

It made it in the context--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So are we being asked to review the en banc judgment that occurred before the remand?

Jeffrey P. Minear:

--Yes, that is right.

The issue that this Court is reviewing is whether or not this affirmative defense in fact exists.

We submit that there is in fact no commercial or noncommercial taking defense for Indians in these cases.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And all we are looking at is the question of, if it is not for a commercial purpose and not for a religious purpose.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

That is right, Your Honor.