Lucas v. United States

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Lucas v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued Nov. 19, 1895
Decided May 25, 1896
Full case name Lucas v. United States
Docket nos. 692
Citations 163 U.S. 612 (more)
16 S. Ct. 1168; 41 L. Ed. 282
Prior history United States v. Lucas, (C.C.W.D. Ark.)
Whether a Negro Freeman who was murdered was a member of the Choctaw Tribe is a question of fact for the jury, and his non-Indian status may not be presumed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
Stephen J. Field · John M. Harlan
Horace Gray · David J. Brewer
Henry B. Brown · George Shiras Jr.
Edward D. White · Rufus W. Peckham
Case opinions
Majority Shiras
Peckham took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
14 Stat. 769; 23 Stat. 362; 25 Stat. 786; 26 Stat. 81

Lucas v. United States, 163 U.S. 612 (1896), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that whether a Negro freedman was a member of the Choctaw Nation was a question of fact for the jury, and his non-Indian status may not be presumed.


Judge Parker's courtroom where Lucas was tried

The Choctaw Nation was one of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory (now the eastern part of Oklahoma),[a] and under their treaty with the United States, were allowed to have its own court system to try Indian on Indian crime.[2] When the crime was Choctaw on Choctaw, the tribal courts would handle the trial, but if it involved a non-tribal member, the case was handled by the federal court in Fort Smith, Arkansas.[3] Tribal members included freedmen, African-Americans who had been slaves and who had been adopted by the tribe after the Civil War.[4]

In 1894, Eli Lucas,[b] a member of the Choctaw Nation, was indicted in the Circuit Court for the Western District of Arkansas for the murder of Levy Kemp, an African-American.[6][c] In 1895, Lucas was tried in Judge Isaac Parker's court, where witnesses said that Lucas had followed Kemp after a ball game and killed him.[8][d] The defense claimed that Lucas was not truthful when he had boasted that he had killed Kemp, but that some other, unknown person had committed the murder.[10] Lucas was convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang.[11]

Lucas's attorneys filed an appeal, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.[12][e]

Supreme Court[edit]

Justice Shiras, author of the Court's opinion

Justice George Shiras, Jr. delivered the opinion of the Court.[14] Although the Court agreed that Kemp was not a Choctaw Freedman and therefore not a member of the tribe, it held that Judge Parker had erred.[15] The trial court should not have presumed that Kemp was not a member of the tribe, the government should have been required to prove that element in order to establish jurisdiction.[16] Shiras noted that §§ 2145-2146, Revised Statutes,[17] stated that the federal courts did not have jurisdiction over Indian on Indian crime where the tribe had a tribal court.[18] He also held that allowing John LeFlore testify as to what Kemp had told him was hearsay and inadmissible.[19] The Court ordered that Lucas be retried, and reversed his conviction.[20] Lucas was then released to the Choctaw Nation for trial.[21]


  1. ^ The first constitution was adopted in 1826 and was modeled after the United States Constitution, providing for three branches of government. This included a court system.[1]
  2. ^ Lucas was also charged with larceny and had committed assault and battery.[5]
  3. ^ Kemp was described as "half-witted."[7]
  4. ^ The murder was particularly gruesome, Kemp was decapitated and his limbs severed from his body.[9]
  5. ^ Until 1889, Judge Parker heard the appeals of the cases he tried, as the Supreme Court did not hear appeals of capital cases.[13]


The citations in this article are written in Bluebook style. Please see the talk page for more information.

  1. ^ Devon Abbott Mihesuah, Choctaw Crime and Punishment, 1884-1907 15 (2012).
  2. ^ Treaty with the Choctaw and Chichasaw, Apr. 28, 1866, 14 Stat. 769; Lucas v. United States, 163 U.S. 612 (1896); 2 Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties 918 (Charles J. Kappler ed., 1904).
  3. ^ Mihesuah, at 8.
  4. ^ Mihesuah, at 63; John Rockwell Snowden, Wayne Tyndall, & David Smith, American Indian Sovereignty and Naturalization: It's a Race Thing, 80 Neb. L. Rev. 171, 210 (2001).
  5. ^ Mihesuah, at 62.
  6. ^ Lucas, 163 U.S. at 612; Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic 192 (1975); Mihesuah, at 62.
  7. ^ S. W. Harman, Hell on the Border: He Hanged Eighty-eight Men 363 (1898).
  8. ^ Mihesuah, at 63.
  9. ^ Mihesuah, at 63.
  10. ^ Debo, at 192; Harman, at 364.
  11. ^ Lucas, 163 U.S. at 612; Debo, at 192; Mihesuah, at 63.
  12. ^ Mihesuah, at 63-64.
  13. ^ Jeffrey Brandon Morris, Establishing Justice in Middle America: A History of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit 37 (2007).
  14. ^ Mihesuah, at 64.
  15. ^ Mihesuah, at 64.
  16. ^ Mihesuah, at 64.
  17. ^ Act of Mar. 3, 1885, 23 Stat. 385 (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1153).
  18. ^ Mihesuah, at 64-65.
  19. ^ Mihesuah, at 64.
  20. ^ Harman, at 364; Mihesuah, at 66; Territory News, Phoenix (Muskogee, Okla.), Jun. 4, 1896, at 1 (via open access publication – free to read).
  21. ^ Reversals and Acquittals of Capital Crimes after 1890, National Park Service, n.d. (last visited Aug. 6, 2015).

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