United States v. Wheeler (1978)

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United States v. Wheeler
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued Jan. 11, 1978
Decided Mar. 22, 1978
Full case nameUnited States v. Anthony Robert Wheeler
Citations435 U.S. 313 (more)
98 S. Ct. 1079; 55 L. Ed. 2d 303; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 72
Case history
Prior545 F.2d 1255 (9th Cir. 1976), ref'g and reh'g en banc denied Mar. 23, 1977
The Fifth Amendment does not prevent prosecution by both an Indian tribe and the federal government of the United States.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell Jr.
William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens
Case opinion
MajorityStewart, joined by Burger, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens
Brennan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. V

United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313 (1978), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar the federal prosecution of a Native American (Indian) who has already been prosecuted by the tribe.[1]


In 1974, Anthony Robert Wheeler, a member of the Navajo tribe, was charged with disorderly conduct through the tribal justice system. On October 18, 1974, Wheeler plead guilty to that charge and to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Wheeler was sentenced to 15 days in jail or a fine of $30 on the disorderly conduct, and 60 days in jail or a fine of $120 on the second charge.[2]

On November 19, 1975, a federal grand jury indicted Wheeler for statutory rape, based on the same incident, and Wheeler moved to quash the indictment based on double jeopardy. The United States District Court dismissed the indictment.[3] The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, concluding that tribal courts and federal district courts were arms of the same sovereign.[4]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Justice Potter Stewart delivered the opinion of a unanimous court. Stewart noted that the issue was whether an Indian tribe had the inherent sovereignty to punish tribal members for offenses. He observed that unless the power was withdrawn by treaty or statute, the tribe retained that authority. Since the Navajo tribe had never given up that authority and Congress had not withdrawn it by statute, the tribe could punish its member for a violation of law.[5]

Since this authority was separate from federal authority, the tribe was acting as an independent sovereign. The Double Jeopardy clause does not prohibit prosecution by two separate sovereigns. The Court reversed and remanded the decision of the lower courts, and allowed the prosecution of Wheeler.[6]


  1. ^ United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313 (1978).
  2. ^ Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 314-15.
  3. ^ Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 315-16.
  4. ^ United States v. Wheeler, 545 F.2d 1255 (9th Cir. 1977).
  5. ^ Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 313.
  6. ^ Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 314.

External links[edit]