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SEYMOUR v. SUPERINTENDENT WASHINGTON STATE PENITENTIARY

decided: January 15, 1962.

SEYMOUR
v.
SUPERINTENDENT OF WASHINGTON STATE PENITENTIARY



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart

Author: Black

[ 368 U.S. Page 352]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner Paul Seymour was charged with burglary by the State of Washington in the Superior Court of Okanogan County and pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of attempted burglary. Upon this plea he was convicted and sentenced to serve seven and one-half years in the state penitentiary. Later, he commenced this proceeding by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the State Supreme Court urging that his state conviction was void for want of jurisdiction on the grounds that he was an enrolled, unemancipated member of the Colville Indian Tribe and therefore a ward of the United States; that the "purported crime" of burglary for which he had been convicted was committed in "Indian country" as defined in 18 U. S. C. § 1151;*fn1 and that burglary committed by an Indian in Indian country is an offense "within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States" under 18 U. S. C. § 1153.*fn2 Since the petition, return and answer raised issues of fact, the State Supreme Court referred the matter to the original trial court to determine (1) whether petitioner was a member of the Colville Tribe, and (2) whether the offense was

[ 368 U.S. Page 353]

     committed in Indian country. After hearings, the trial court upheld petitioner's claim of membership in the Colville Tribe, but rejected his contention that the burglary upon which the state conviction was based had occurred in Indian country.

The trial court's conclusion that the crime did not take place in Indian country was not based upon any factual doubt as to the precise place where the burglary occurred for that fact was undisputed. Nor did that conclusion rest upon any uncertainty as to the proper definition of the term "Indian country" for the court expressly recognized the applicability of § 1151 which defines the term to include "all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running through the reservation . . . ." Rather, the trial court's conclusion rested solely upon its holding that, although the land upon which the burglary occurred had once been within the limits of an Indian reservation, that reservation had since been dissolved and the land in question restored to the public domain.

Agreeing with the trial court, the State Supreme Court then denied the petition for habeas corpus,*fn3 holding as it previously had in State ex rel. Best v. Superior Court,*fn4 that "What is still known as the south half of the diminished Colville Indian reservation is no longer an Indian reservation." Since the question of whether the place where the crime occurred is a part of an Indian reservation and therefore Indian country within the meaning of §§ 1151 and 1153 depends upon the interpretation and application of federal law, and since the resolution of that question as presented in this case raises issues of importance pertaining

[ 368 U.S. Page 354]

     to this country's relationship to its Indian wards, we granted certiorari.*fn5

The case turns upon the current status of the Colville Indian Reservation -- a reservation created in 1872 by Executive Order of President Grant which declared that "the country bounded on the east and south by the Columbia River, on the west by the Okanagan River, and on the north by the British possessions, be, and the same is hereby, set apart as a reservation for" the Colville Indians.*fn6 In 1892, the size of this reservation was diminished when Congress passed an Act providing that, subject to reservations and allotments made to individual Colville Indians, about one-half of the original Colville reservation, since commonly referred to as the "North Half," should be "vacated and restored to the public domain . . . ."*fn7 This Act did not, however, purport to affect the status of the remaining part of the reservation, since known as the "South Half" or the "diminished Colville Indian Reservation," but instead expressly reaffirmed that this South Half was "still reserved by the Government for their [the Colville Indians'] use and occupancy."*fn8 Since the burglary of which petitioner was convicted occurred on land within the South Half, it is clear that state jurisdiction over the offense charged, if it is to be found at all, must be based upon some federal action subsequent to the 1892 Act.

The Washington courts found authority for the assertion of state jurisdiction in a 1906 Act of Congress*fn9 implemented by a 1916 Presidential Proclamation.*fn10 The 1906 ...


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