Without Prejudice, Without Jurisdiction

Without Prejudice, dismiss the charges. This was the instruction to the court from the prosecuting attorney for the City of Fife. Puyallup tribal members Dakota and Chester had their second court hearing today in relation to their recent arrest. They were both facing a single charge each of Obstruction of Justice.

Both men had stood in front of a truck taking part in pipeline work related to the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant being built at the Port of Tacoma. Both men were arrested by officers from the City of Fife in front of Puyallup Tribal Police. They were then taken off the reservation to a private jail facility about 20 miles away.

Chester spoke with us after the first hearing, explaining how Fife wanted the Tribe to say the men were in the wrong.

Without Prejudice

The prosecutor asked the judge to dismiss the charges against Chester and Dakota, without prejudice. Chester has worked in the court system and knew that this had to be challenged. We learned that the prosecutor wanted the tribe to charge the men. If the tribe declines, he wants to be able to pick up the charge again.

After hearing Chester argue for the case to be dismissed with prejudice, the judge declined. He pointed out that with prejudice would mean the Puyallup Tribes court couldn’t follow through anyway under double jeopardy laws. It’s unclear how that would apply in this case when one is a city court and the other a federal court.

Jurisdiction

The Judge then admitted that the Fife court did not have jurisdiction over the men and dismissed the charges without prejudice.

This seems like a careful choice of words for the Judge. The judge allowed the prosecutor to have an option on the table, by keeping the without prejudice clause.

However, as the judge admitted on record that he didn’t have jurisdiction, it would be hard for Fife prosecutors to pick up the charge again. It’s seen as highly unlikely that the Puyallup Tribal Court would pick up the charges as tribal officers declined to arrest the men that night.

This is seen as a definite victory for tribal jurisdiction. It would seem to cover anywhere within Puyallup Reservation boundaries, regardless of whether the location is trust or fee land.

Perhaps more importantly though, Fife has managed to avoid a bigger debate about sovereignty, for now. Sovereignty is a can of worms Fife authorities would be reluctant to open. Especially considering the fact that their city lies within the Puyallup Indian Reservation.

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