This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).





State of Minnesota,



Charles William Zornes,

Appellant (CX-96-2014),

Voncille Marie Alvarado,

Appellant (CX-96-2028).

Filed April 22, 1997


Schumacher, Judge

Mahnomen County District Court

File No. KX-96-82/T0-95-887

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)

Eric O. Boe, Mahnomen County Attorney, Post Office Box 439, Mahnomen, MN 56557 (for Respondent)

Peter W. Cannon, Post Office Box 480, Mahnomen, MN 56557 (for Appellants)

Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.



Charles William Zornes and Voncille Marie Alvarado appeal from convictions of driving after license revocation, challenging the trial court's denial of separate motions to dismiss the traffic charges against them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Zornes and Alvarado argue the state lacks authority to enforce the traffic statute, Minn. Stat. § 171.24 (1996), within the reservation's boundaries against enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Band. We reverse.


By this consolidated appeal we review the remaining charges that were not before this court when we previously heard these cases. See State v. Stone, 557 N.W.2d 588, 590 (Minn. App. 1996) (affirming dismissal of traffic charges, but not considering charge of driving after license revocation), review granted (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997). Briefly, the parties stipulated that: (1) both Zornes and Alvarado are enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Band; (2) they were stopped on separate occasions while operating motor vehicles within the boundaries of the White Earth Indian Reservation; (3) both their drivers' licenses had been revoked before the stops; and (4) Zornes and Alvarado were cited for driving after license revocation.

The parties submitted their stipulation to the trial court with the understanding that the court would either dismiss the charges for lack of jurisdiction or make a finding as to guilt. The trial court determined that it had jurisdiction over the charges of driving after license revocation and found Zornes and Alvarado guilty, but dismissed other traffic charges against them for lack of jurisdiction. This appeal followed.


This court need not give deference to a trial court's legal conclusions. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984). We review jurisdictional questions de novo. Becker County Welfare Dep't v. Bellcourt, 453 N.W.2d 543, 544 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. May 23, 1990).

While Indian tribes retain attributes of sovereignty over their land and members, their sovereignty remains subordinate to the federal government. California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 207, 107 S. Ct. 1083, 1087 (1987). Accordingly, a state's laws may be enforced within a reservation to the extent Congress has so provided. Id. In 1953, Congress made such a grant of authority in Public Law 280, which gives designated states, including Minnesota, broad criminal jurisdiction within certain Indian reservations. Act of August 15, 1953, Pub. L. No. 83-280, 67 Stat. 588 (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1162 (1994), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321-24 (1994), 28 U.S.C. § 1360 (1994)). Public Law 280 also provides states limited civil jurisdiction on reservations, but does not grant general civil regulatory authority. Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 384-85, 96 S. Ct. 2102, 2109 (1976).

The crucial inquiry to determine whether a state has jurisdiction to enforce a law within an Indian reservation under Public Law 280 is the nature of the law--whether the law is criminal or civil in nature. Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 208, 107 S. Ct. at 1088. In Cabazon, the Supreme Court provided a test for distinguishing a state's "criminal/prohibitory" laws from its "civil/regulatory" laws:

[I]f the intent of a state law is generally to prohibit certain conduct, it falls within Pub.L. 280's grant of criminal jurisdiction, but if the state law generally permits the conduct at issue, subject to regulation, it must be classified as civil/regulatory and Pub.L. 280 does not authorize its enforcement on an Indian reservation.

Id. at 209, 107 S. Ct. at 1088. A state law is not criminal/prohibitory merely because it is enforceable by criminal as well as civil means. Id. at 211, 107 S. Ct. at 1089. Any doubts regarding the characterization of a law's nature should be resolved in favor of the Indians. Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians v. Wilson, 925 F. Supp. 1470, 1474 (C.D. Cal. 1996).

The state argues the statute at issue is criminal/prohibitory because Minnesota prohibits driving after license revocation. We disagree with the state's narrow focus concerning the relevant activity. As we stated in State v. Stone, 557 N.W.2d 588 (Minn. App. 1996), review granted (Minn. Mar. 18, 1996), Minnesota generally permits the larger activity of driving a motor vehicle, but subjects the privilege to regulatory limitations. Id. at 591. The purpose of the driving after revocation statute is not to prohibit the driving of motor vehicles, but merely to place limits on it. See id. at 592 (holding statutes concerning driving without license or driving with expired license are part of state's regulatory scheme and are not criminal/prohibitory); cf. St. Germaine v. Circuit Court, 938 F.2d 75, 77 (7th Cir. 1991) (finding state statute prescribing mandatory jail sentence for fourth driving after revocation conviction was prohibitory, but acknowledging statute might be regulatory to extent it did not carry mandatory jail sentence or fine for first offenders), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 997 (1992). We conclude that Minnesota's driving after revocation statute is civil/regulatory in nature, such that the state cannot enforce the statute against Zornes and Alvarado for offenses occurring on the White Earth Indian Reservation.

In the alternative, the state argues it has jurisdiction in the absence of a congressional grant of authority because neither federal nor tribal laws preempted the state's authority to regulate tribal members driving within the reservation at the time of Zornes and Alvarado's offenses. See Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 214-15, 107 S. Ct. at 1091 (noting in absence of express congressional consent, states possess jurisdiction over on-reservation activities of tribal members only in "exceptional circumstances"). We conclude, however, that the state has not shown the exceptional circumstances justifying its assertion of state jurisdiction over Zornes and Alvarado's activities on the reservation. See Stone, 557 N.W.2d at 593 (finding no exceptional circumstances to support state's exercise of jurisdiction). Rather, the state lacked authority to enforce Minn. Stat. § 171.24 against Zornes and Alvarado on the White Earth Indian Reservation. Therefore, the trial court improperly denied Zornes and Alvarado's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.