An embattled Blackfeet tribal councilor and state senator will plead guilty to charges of drunken driving if a judge does not drop the case in federal court.
Sen. Shannon Augare’s attorney filed a court brief Tuesday stating Augare would plead guilty to charges of drunken driving, reckless driving and obstruction of justice in order to avoid going to trial on Nov. 7. The attorney, Joe McKay, recently filed a motion to dismiss the case for a lack of jurisdiction after Augare pleaded guilty to the same charges in tribal court on Oct. 23.
Prosecutors opposed the motion, accusing Augare of “jurisdictional gamesmanship” in an attempt to juke the federal prosecution.
His trial had been scheduled to begin Thursday, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong vacated that trial to instead hear arguments in Great Falls on the motion to dismiss the federal case.
Federal prosecutors believe the case should move forward and filed a lengthy brief this week opposing Augare’s motion to dismiss, calling him out on his legal gambit.
“If ever there were an example of jurisdictional gamesmanship, it is this case.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon wrote.
“Through all of these jurisdictional gymnastics, one thing remains clear — Augare does not want prosecution brought in federal court,” Weldon continued.
“While the government unquestionably respects and continues to promote tribal sovereignty, Augare cannot undercut federal jurisdiction, undermine the existence of federal cases and their accompanying judgments, and blatantly use and manipulate jurisdiction to do his bidding. This case will ensure that such activities do not occur. Nor will they be condoned.”
The Browning Democrat was pulled over near Cut Bank on the night of May 26 after reports he was driving recklessly. The Glacier County Sheriff’s deputy who responded said the vehicle smelled of alcohol. Augare told the deputy he did not have jurisdiction over the tribal member before driving off into the night.
Later that evening, Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services cited Augare for a “civil service” infraction but he was not charged in tribal court, despite the fact that other offenders would have been arrested, according to federal prosecutors.
Officers later admitted to not taking any actions because they were in fear of their jobs, according to court documents.
This summer, federal prosecutors brought charges against Augare. On Oct. 1, a judge denied his motion to dismiss the charges based on his jurisdictional argument. On Oct. 23, he was charged with identical charges in Blackfeet Tribal Court and, later that day, pleaded guilty to the charges. His attorney then filed a motion to dismiss the charges in U.S. District Court under the theory that, because he has been punished by the Blackfeet Tribe he is free to divest a federal court of jurisdiction.
Last week, Augare told reporters at a press conference that he believed the punishment brought in tribal court was enough. Chief Judge Allie Edwards handed Augare a 37-day suspended sentence and is requiring him to submit to a chemical dependency evaluation and pay either $400 to the court or $200 worth of toys for the tribe’s Toys For Tots fundraiser in December.
“When is enough, enough?” Augare asked at the press conference. “When has Shannon Augare been properly punished? When can I again focus on doing good for this nation?”
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