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Updated 10:00 AM February 20, 2006




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  Law School
Navajo Supreme Court to hear double jeopardy case

The Law School will host American Indian Law Day 2006 with the Navajo Supreme Court hearing oral arguments on a case involving double jeopardy.

The Navajo Nation is one of the largest and most influential Indian tribes in the United States. Under federal law, the tribe maintains its own legal jurisdiction for tribal members and lands, and has developed its own law and jurisprudence. Three justices will hear oral arguments presented by two attorneys from 1-5 p.m. March 17 in Room 100 of Hutchins Hall.

The case is Navajo Nation v. Kelly. The defendant, James Kelly, is a Navajo tribal member found guilty of causing a fatal auto accident while attempting to illegally pass on a two-lane road on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. Kelly hit an oncoming vehicle head-on, killing the driver, also a Navajo tribal member. Kelly was charged and convicted of reckless driving and homicide by vehicle, two separate offenses under the Navajo Traffic Code. For vehicular homicide, he was sentenced to 365 days in jail (the maximum under the Code and the Indian Civil Rights Act), suspended to probation, plus a $2,500 fine. As for reckless driving, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, suspended to probation, and fined $375.

On appeal, Kelly's attorney will argue that the two convictions violate principles of double jeopardy, but in the absence of Navajo case law, the court will consider whether to apply concepts of double jeopardy arising from federal law, New Mexico law, or from the Navajo Bill of Rights. Additionally, Kelly is seeking dismissal of both convictions for insufficient evidence, or in the alternative is asking the Court to vacate the reckless driving sentence.

This is the court's first visit to Michigan. The hearing is open to the public. Those who wish to participate must be seated by 2 p.m. and there will be no late admission. Photos may not be taken during the hearing. A panel discussion, also open to the public, will follow the court session.

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