VERNAL A 4-year-old court case that involves jurisdiction over 2 million acres of hunting and fishing land in the Uintah Basin will be heard by the Utah Supreme Court later this month.
The high court will hear oral arguments on Feb. 28 in Utah v. Ricky L. Reber to determine whether the Utah Court of Appeals erred when it dismissed a hunting violation against Reber, a 54-year-old former Uintah County man who claimed his Native American heritage as a "non-terminated" Uinta band member allowed him to hunt without a state license.
Reber was found guilty in 2002 by an 8th District Court jury in Vernal of helping his 13-year-old son take a trophy buck without a state hunting permit. However, in September 2005, the Court of Appeals ruled on a matter of jurisdiction, determining that the trophy buck that Reber assisted his son in taking was on tribal "trust" lands, which meant the Ute Indian Tribe, not the state, was the victim.
The decision vacated Reber's conviction in 8th District Court and was a surprising upset to state prosecutors, who maintained that the case was not about jurisdiction but about whether Reber, who claimed just 4 percent Native American blood lines, was considered a Native American when it came to hunting privileges.
The land in question is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, with the exception of hunting and fishing, which is overseen by the state Division of Wildlife Resources. Since the appellate court ruling, the state's conservation officers, who are cross-deputized to act as federal law-enforcement officers, have continued to provide law enforcement for the area.
The state has conceded that Reber and his son were on the "exterior boundaries" of the tribe's reservation but maintains it is still unreasonable for the Rebers to believe they were legally able to hunt on Ute Tribe trust lands without a permit.
"We are saying that this (appellate court ruling) is incorrect under U.S. Supreme Court law," Assistant Attorney General Joann Slotnik said at the time. "The Ute Tribe is not the victim. The tribe doesn't have regulatory authority over non-Indians hunting on non-trust land. The tribe doesn't have a property interest in the deer."
Reber's attorney, Mike Humiston, maintains the state has no authority over his client and agrees with the appellate court's decision.
"The state has no jurisdiction over the land in question. It is trust land end of story," Humiston said. "Even if the state has some jurisdiction over the land, they have no jurisdiction over the Uinta band, and Mr. Reber is a Uinta band member."During the oral arguments later this month, attorneys representing the state, Reber and the Ute Indian Tribe will share a total of about 40 minutes to present their case before the Utah Supreme Court judges. The Ute Tribe filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court on the mixed-blood issue, maintaining that Reber is not a federally recognized Indian and therefore has no right to claim hunting privileges as such.