ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Supreme Court reaffirmed the sovereignty of Red Lake Nation in a recent decision about a DWI arrest from 2017.
The decision issued Jan. 15 centered on the arrest of a man, Randy Lee Thompson, who was not a member of Red Lake Nation but who was arrested on tribal land. The arresting tribal officer transported Thompson to the reservation-county border and handed him over to Beltrami County officials.
Thompson, 59, later challenged his conviction, claiming the tribal officer did not have authority to arrest him since the officer wasn’t licensed by the state of Minnesota.
In its decision, however, the Supreme Court came to the same conclusion that the district court and appeals court did.
“Indian tribes possess the traditional and undisputed power to exclude persons whom they deem to be undesirable from tribal lands,’” the decision from the Supreme Court read, partially quoting prior casework.
The court's decision later said "the fundamental flaw in Thompson's argument is that Officer Bendel did not need to be authorized under Minnesota law to detain or arrest Thompson to remove him from the reservation and transport him to Beltrami County law enforcement."
The decision clarified that even when tribes do not have the jurisdiction to “try and punish” an offender, they do have the right to detain the individual and transport them off of tribal lands.
At the time he was arrested, Thompson had a blood-alcohol level of 0.121. The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration while driving in Minnesota is 0.08. Thompson’s blood was tested a second time once he arrived at the Beltrami County Jail, and it registered at 0.11. Thompson also failed three sobriety tests administered by the Red Lake officer.
An earlier press release from the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office said Thompson had 13 prior DWIs.
Thompson was later sentenced to five years of incarceration.
Beltrami County Attorney David Hanson argued before the Supreme Court regarding the case on Dec. 2. One of the arguments Hanson made at the time was that ruling in favor of Thompson’s appeal would have created a place where non-Natives could drive while intoxicated without any fear of repercussion.