Arizona Man Questions Federal Jurisdiction Of Native American Ancestry

Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 5:51pm
Updated: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 5:54pm

An Arizona man who was sentenced to 90 years in prison on assault and firearms charges, is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case.

His case has sparked debate over what constitutes Native American ancestry. Damien Zepeda is a Gila River tribal member who was convicted in 2008 for a shooting on the Ak-Chin reservation. That conviction was overturned by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in 2013.

But, that conviction was reinstated in July, when the appeals court ruled that evidence was sufficient to find that he was of American Indian descent. It makes a difference because federal authorities have jurisdiction over major crimes on tribal land when the suspect, victim or both is Native American. Under the Indian Major Crimes Act, federal weapons charges are much harsher - mandating the 90-year sentence.

If heard by the high court, Zepeda’s case could help further define what constitutes bloodlines derived from a federally recognized tribe.