(AP) — The Supreme Court
ruled on Tuesday that tribal police
officers have the authority to stop and search non-Indians on tribal lands for potential violations of state or federal law.
The justices unanimously overturned an appellate ruling in favor of a non-Native motorist who was charged with drug-related crimes after a tribal officer searched his pickup truck on a public road in Montana
that crosses the Crow reservation.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that tribal police have little authority over non-Indians, but Justice Stephen Breyer
wrote for the court that allowing a temporary stop and detention – so that state or federal authorities can be summoned – improves public safety.
“To deny a tribal police officer the authority to search and detain for a reasonable period of time any person he or she believes may or has committed a crime would make it difficult for tribes to protect themselves against ongoing threats,” Breyer wrote.
Officer James Saylor of the Crow Tribe Police Department conducted a traffic stop in 2016 after discovering a pickup truck parked on the shoulder of US Route 212 with its headlights on and engine running.
According to Saylor, the driver, Joshua Cooley, had watery, bloodshot eyes and was carrying two semiautomatic rifles, a handgun, and methamphetamine in the pickup.
Saylor requested assistance from federal and county authorities, who apprehended Cooley.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Cooley, ruling that non-Indians can only be detained if evidence of a crime is “apparent” or “obvious.”
During the Trump administration
, the Justice Department
filed an appeal, and it maintained its position after President Joe Biden