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October 20, 2013

Disputed land forces DWI dismissal

AKWESASNE — An indictment involving a drunken-driving crash within disputed St. Regis Mohawk Indian land-claim area was dismissed over jurisdictional issues.

Amanda Herne, 34, of Hogansburg crashed her car on St. Regis Road in the Town of Bombay on Sept. 14, 2012.

She was later indicted by a Franklin County grand jury for aggravated driving while intoxicated for allegedly having a blood-alcohol content above the 0.08 percent legal limit, DWI for allegedly having a drunken-driving conviction during the previous 10 years and for speeding.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Department investigated and made the arrest, but the incident occurred in an area known as the Bombay Triangle, land Mohawks say was part of the original Akwesasne reservation boundaries drawn up in a 1796 treaty and taken illegally by New York state without proper congressional approval.

The Police Department was established in 2005 with officers having full State Police powers allowed under federal Indian Law, but arrests are limited to the reservation boundaries.

PLAIN LANGUAGE OF LAW

County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr. presided over a hearing on the police’s jurisdiction and in his ruling said his decision was based on the plain language and intent of the state law that created the Tribal Police.

Defense Attorney Vaughn Aldrich argued that the department’s powers are strictly limited and “absent of ‘hot pursuit,’” the police had no authority outside the reservation, and the indictment against his client should be dropped.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Glenn MacNeill made the case that the police had the right to make the alcohol-related arrests based on two sections of criminal-procedure law.

The speeding charge was not addressed in the argument, so the judge dismissed that count.

‘LIMITED POWERS’

Main also wrote that MacNeill included a footnote citing a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision that addressed Indian Law that states that Tribal Police officers had no authority to “exercise the duties or functions of a police officer” beyond the reservation.

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