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TALTON V. MAYES, 163 U. S. 376 (1898)

U.S. Supreme Court

Talton v. Mayes, 163 U.S. 376 (1896)

Talton v. Mayes

No. 227

Argued April 16-17, 1896

Decided May 18, 1898

163 U.S. 376


The crime of murder committed by one Cherokee Indian upon the person of another within the jurisdiction of the Cherokee nation is not an offense against the United States, but an offense against the local laws of the Cherokee nation, and the statutes of the United States which provide for an indictment by a grand jury and the number of persons who shall constitute such a body have no application.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution does not apply to local legislation of the Cherokee nation, so as to require all prosecutions for offenses committed against the laws of that nation to be initiated by a grand jury in accordance with the provisions of that amendment.

The question whether a statute of the Cherokee nation which was not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States or in conflict with any treaty or law of the United States had been repealed by another statute of that nation, and the determination of what was the existing law of the Cherokee nation as to the Constitution of the grand jury, is solely a matter within the jurisdiction of the courts of that nation, and the decision of such a question in itself necessarily involves no infraction of the Constitution of the United States.

On February 15, 1893, a petition for habeas corpus was filed in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas setting forth that the plaintiff therein (who is the appellant here) was, on the 31st day of December,

Page 163 U. S. 377

1892, convicted on a charge of murder in a special supreme court of the Cherokee Nation, Cooweeskoowee District, and sentenced to be hanged on February 28, 1893, and that petitioner was then held, awaiting the time of execution, in the national jail at Tablequah, Indian Territory by Wash. Mayes, High Sheriff of the Cherokee Nation. It was further alleged that the petitioner was deprived of his liberty without due process of law; that he was in confinement in contravention to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and also in violation of the Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation. These contentions rested upon the averment that the indictment under which he had been tried and convicted was void because returned by a body consisting of five grand jurors, which was not only an insufficient number to constitute a grand jury under the Constitution and laws of the United States, but also was wholly inadequate to compose such jury under the laws of the Cherokee Nation, which, it was alleged, provided for a grand jury of thirteen, of which number a majority was necessary to find an indictment. The petitioner, moreover, averred that he had not been tried by a fair and impartial jury, and that many gross irregularities and errors to his prejudice had been committed on the trial. The district judge issued the writ, which was duly served upon the high sheriff, who produced the body of the petitioner, and made return setting up the conviction and sentence as justifying the detention of the prisoner. Incorporated in the return was a transcript of the proceedings in the Cherokee court had upon the indictment and trial of the petitioner. In the copy of the indictment contained in the original transcript, filed in this Court, it was recited that the indictment was found by the grand jury on the 1st day of December, 1892, while the offense therein stated was alleged to have been committed "on or about the 3d day of December, 1892." The evidence contained in the transcript, however, showed that the offense was committed on November 3, 1892, and in a supplement to the transcript, filed in this Court, it appears that said date was given in the indictment. No motion or demurrer or other attack upon the sufficiency of the indictment was made upon the trial in

Page 163 U. S. 378

the Cherokee court based upon the ground that the offense was stated in the indictment to have been committed on a date subsequent to the finding of the indictment, nor is there any specification of error of that character contained in the petition for the allowance of the writ of habeas corpus. After hearing, the district judge discharged the writ and remanded the petitioner to the custody of the sheriff, and from this judgment the appeal now under consideration was allowed.

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