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United States v. Pemberton.

No. 22-7028. 3/4/2024. E.D.Okla. Judge Tymkovich. State Court Jurisdiction—Indian Country—Motion to Suppress—Good Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule—Sentencing Hearing—Right to Proceed Pro Se.

March 4, 2024

In 2004, Pemberton was prosecuted and convicted in an Oklahoma state court for a murder committed in McIntosh County, Oklahoma. Since then, McIntosh County has been determined to straddle the Creek Nation and the Cherokee Nation reservations. Pemberton, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, applied for postconviction relief in Oklahoma state court, contending that his conviction was invalid. He argued that the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction over the crime because it occurred in Indian Country and he was an enrolled member of the Creek Nation at the time of the crime. The Oklahoma state court denied Pemberton’s request to void his final state conviction, and the denial was affirmed on appeal. As state habeas proceedings were pending, a federal grand jury indicted Pemberton for the 2004 murder. Pemberton moved to suppress all evidence gathered and statements obtained during the 2004 state investigation. The district court denied Pemberton’s suppression motion, and he was convicted on all counts. At sentencing, Pemberton asked to proceed without a lawyer. The district court denied his request, allowing appointed counsel to continue to represent Pemberton throughout the sentencing phase.

On appeal, Pemberton argued that the district court erred in denying the motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the 2004 murder investigation. He maintained that McIntosh County law enforcement lacked jurisdiction to investigate the crime, arrest him, or interrogate him because he was an enrolled tribal member on what was subsequently determined to be a reservation. It is undisputed that Pemberton’s crime, arrest, and investigation occurred on what has retroactively been determined to be outside Oklahoma’s jurisdiction, so the question was whether the officers were objectively reasonable in believing they had jurisdiction. Here, the historical record shows that government officials from the Creek Nation, the State of Oklahoma, and the United States held and expressed the belief that the Creek Nation reservation did not continue to exist after Oklahoma became a state. When Oklahoma became a state, the federal government stopped prosecuting serious crimes committed by Indians in federal court, and Oklahoma immediately began prosecuting those crimes in state court. Accordingly, the officers’ decision to apply for a warrant issued by a state court judge was objectively reasonable, and they could reasonably rely on the judge’s authority to issue the warrant. Therefore, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the evidence discovered pursuant to the search warrant, and any resulting evidence was properly introduced at trial.

Pemberton also contended that evidence obtained from the warrantless arrest should have been suppressed. However, it is uncontested that the officers had probable cause to believe that Pemberton committed murder and that they acted with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that they lawfully exercised jurisdiction over that felony. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying Pemberton’s motion to suppress evidence stemming from his arrest.

Pemberton further argued that the district court erred at sentencing by denying, without a formal hearing, his request to represent himself at sentencing. A hearing on this issue is generally a sufficient, but not a necessary, condition to a knowing waiver. Here, the district court properly analyzed whether Pemberton met the requirements to proceed pro se, determining that he focused on issues unrelated to sentencing, waited until one week before the sentencing hearing to make his request, and continuously ignored court procedures on filing motions. The court findings that Pemberton’s request to proceed pro se was untimely and made for the purpose of delaying the sentencing are amply supported by the record. Accordingly, the district court did not violate Pemberton’s constitutional right to represent himself when it denied his request to proceed pro se.

The denials of Pemberton’s motion to suppress and request to represent himself at sentencing were affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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