About the 2022–2023 Competition
This year marks the 98th anniversary of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, founded at Columbia Law School in 1925 by the Story Inn, a chapter of the legal fraternity Phi Delta Phi. The competition is named in honor of Harlan Fiske Stone 1898, who was a member of the Story Inn while a student at the Law School. Stone was named dean of Columbia Law School in 1910. He served in that capacity until 1924, when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him attorney general of the United States. He was named to the Supreme Court of the United States the following year and was elevated to chief justice in 1941.
This year’s case centered on issues of federal criminal jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, and interpretation of the “career offender” designation under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for controlled substance offenses. The final round of the competition was held on Monday, March 27, 2023, with oral arguments delivered by four outstanding student finalists: Abigail K. Flanigan ’23, Alex Herkert ’23, Julia Konstantinovsky ’24, and Conor J. Regan ’23. Herkert was awarded the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for best oral presentation, and Flanigan won best final round brief.
For more information about this year’s competition, please visit the Students Directors’ Blog.
1. What is the proper standard for determining whether a criminal defendant should be considered an “Indian” under the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, and did the district court’s jury instructions adequately reflect that proper standard?
2. Do Appellant’s prior felony convictions in South Dakota for distribution or possession with intent to distribute marijuana qualify as “controlled substance offenses” such that he may be designated a “career offender” for the purposes of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
On March 24, 2021, Appellant William Joseph Wood was arrested for assaulting a visitor to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Reservation. Mr. Wood was ultimately tried before a jury in the Eastern District of Michigan and was convicted of one count of assault with a dangerous weapon. At sentencing, Mr. Wood was designated a “career offender” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines based upon two prior felony marijuana convictions in South Dakota state court. As a result, Mr. Wood was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison. On appeal, Mr. Wood is challenging certain jury instructions given by the district court and his sentence.
Federal jurisdiction over Mr. Wood’s assault charge turns on whether Mr. Wood should be considered an “Indian” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act. The Major Crimes Act grants federal jurisdiction over certain enumerated criminal offenses, including assault, when they are committed by “[a]ny Indian” within “Indian country.” 18 U.S.C. § 1153. At trial, Mr. Wood disputed that he was an “Indian” for the purposes of the statute. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Wood was not an enrolled member of any tribe. His mother was an enrolled member of a tribe recognized only by the state of Michigan and not by the federal government, and all of Mr. Wood’s indigenous ancestry derives from his mother’s state-recognized tribe. Mr. Wood was previously married to a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, a federally recognized tribe. He was enrolled in the tribe throughout the course of his marriage, but he was disenrolled following his divorce, in accordance with the tribal constitution. He continued to work for the tribe’s casino on tribal land until the day of his arrest.
At trial, the district court judge instructed the jury that the government would need to prove the following two factors beyond a reasonable doubt in order to show that Mr. Wood was an “Indian” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act: “First, that the defendant is descended from indigenous American ancestors; and Second, that the defendant was affiliated with a federally recognized tribe at or around the time of the offense.” Mr. Wood objected to these instructions at trial. The first issue on appeal centers around that objection and whether the jury instructions properly set forth the test for Indian status for the purpose of federal criminal jurisdiction.
Separately, the district court imposed a 120-month prison sentence upon Mr. Wood. This sentence fell within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ recommended range, based in part on the district court’s finding that Mr. Wood should be designated a “career offender” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Had he not been classified as such, the Guidelines would have instead provided for a sentencing range of 30 to 37 months. On appeal, Mr. Wood argues that he should not have been given “career offender” status and that his sentence should be vacated.
A Message From the Organizers
This year’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court problem raises a number of sensitive issues, both in its legal questions and in its use of language. First, this problem frequently uses the term “Indian.” In fact, use of that term is central to one of the problem’s issues, which calls for interpreting the term “Indian” in a federal criminal statute. The two tribes mentioned in this problem—both of which are real tribes—use the term in their own names: the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. By necessity, this problem accepts a convention adopted by federal statutes and used by many tribes across the United States for referring, through a generality, to the diversity of Native American peoples and tribes across the country. Second, this problem grapples with two complex and challenging concerns: blood quantum as a measure of tribal membership and the federal courts’ authoritatively deciding the politico-racial status of individual parties. These concerns are not relics of the past, but remain live issues for Native peoples in the courts and for tribes internally, which must set membership criteria, and which often choose blood quantum as a useful indicator. This problem incorporates those real-world concerns.