Stronger extradition laws proposed in wake of Carroll sentencing

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 4, 2013

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A man convicted of killing a nun in 2009 was sentenced last week to 40 years in federal prison, reigniting a debate on extradition of tribal members.

Reehahlio Carroll, 21, of Navajo, N.M., pleaded guilty in April to the murder of Sister Marguerite Bartz, a nun serving at St. Berard Parish in Navajo. She was found dead Nov. 1, 2009 in her convent.

While the case is resolved it also sheds light on the tribe's extradition process and the way outside law enforcement agencies, including the federal government, sometimes ignore it.

When Navajo Nation police arrested Carroll in 2009, he was held in custody on tribal charges but a federal judge ordered the Window Rock Adult Detention Center to surrender Carroll to the U.S. Marshals Service for a court appearance in federal court in Albuquerque.

Despite repeated attempts by the FBI to apprehend Carroll, Chief Prosecutor Bernadine Martin declined to hand him over because the federal government had not filed an affidavit that explained the federal case against him.

During Carroll's first appearance in federal court, Martin appeared at the hearing and claimed the federal government did not follow the tribe's extradition procedures when they took Carroll into custody.

But Martin's words went unnoticed and Carroll remained in federal custody until his sentencing June 28.

That lack of compliance for the tribe's extradition process brought up the need to revise and strengthen the process, which had not been amended since its establishment in the 1970s, said Paul Spruhan, an assistant attorney general with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.

Spruhan added that despite Navajo laws addressing the extradition process, it was common practice for federal agents to show up on the reservation and pick up an individual without due process.

"It was called 'badge out,'" he said. "People would come in and literally badge out an individual from tribal custody without any process at all."

"You have to make a request to the Navajo Nation government for a person in our custody to be released," Spruhan said June 27 at the Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee meeting, where the bill containing amendments to the extradition process were under consideration.

According to the bill language, no state or other tribal law enforcement agencies can remove any Indian adults or juveniles from the Navajo Reservation without following the extradition process.

It also does not allow Navajo tribal officials to release any Indian adults or juveniles to states or other tribes without following the extradition process.

The new provision makes sure an inmate is not released from tribal custody without a detainer request submitted by the requesting agency.

The amendments also outline the process federal law enforcement agencies must follow, including the request for the transfer of an inmate by submitting a detainer request form and a copy of the federal arrest warrant and federal indictment or complaint.

In addition, they strengthen the rights of an inmate, including placing a copy of the detainer request into the inmate's file and notifying the inmate that such a request was made along with informing the inmate about his or her right to legal counsel and the right to request a hearing.

The amendments were developed over two years of dialogue between the chief prosecutor's office, the tribe's Department of Justice, the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, tribal courts and other entities.

There were also public hearings and discussions with the Law and Order Committee and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

"We fought hard to maintain our sovereignty, and without sovereignty we are not a people," Martin said.

Patrick Scneider, a tribal liaison with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Flagstaff, called the proposed policies and procedures a system that recognizes and respects tribal sovereignty.

The Naa'bik'iyati Committee gave the bill a "do pass" recommendation. The legislation continues to the full Council where final authority rests.

Contact Noel Lyn Smith at 928-871-1139 or