United States v. Denezpi, No. 19-1213 (10th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Defendant-appellant Merle Denezpi, a Navajo tribal member, was arrested by Ute Mountain Ute tribal authorities and charged with violating the Tribe’s assault and battery laws, as well as two provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations on terroristic threats and false imprisonment. He subsequently entered an "Alford" plea to the assault and battery charge and was released from custody for time served. Six months later, Denezpi was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado for aggravated sexual assault. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. At trial, the victim testified Denezpi had previously been incarcerated and implied that he had abused his ex-girlfriend. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to strike that testimony. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. He appealed the denial of his motions to dismiss and to strike the victim’s testimony at trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both issues. The Court found that "the ''ultimate source' of the power undergirding' the CFR prosecution of Mr. Denezpi is the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s inherent sovereignty. Therefore, the subsequent prosecution of Mr. Denezpi in the federal district court did not violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against Double Jeopardy." With respect to the victim's testimony, the Tenth Circuit concluded the testimony's admission was harmless: "the evidence against Mr. Denezpi is overwhelming. The SANE examination of [the victim]. revealed substantial injuries to her body, including bruising on her breasts, back, arms, and legs as well as injuries to her genitals. Mr. Denezpi’s DNA was found on [the victim's] genitalia. The SANE nurse testified at trial that [the victim's] injuries were 'consistent with a nonconsensual sexual assault.'" Accordingly, judgment was affirmed.