Appeals court overturns cockfighting conviction

By Kristi Eaton
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) April 2011

A federal appeals court overturned the conviction of one of 75 people charged with crimes after a 2006 raid at a cockfight on American Indian land in Oklahoma, finding that the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction for a victimless crime involving a non-Indian.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver made the ruling in favor of Robert Langford of Wichita Falls, Texas. States have jurisdiction over crimes on Indian land if neither an Indian victim nor Indian perpetrator is involved, according to the decision.

“The only issue is whether there is federal jurisdiction for a victimless crime, perpetrated by a non-Indian in Indian country. This is a question of first impression, but the answer is clear. There is no jurisdiction,” the three-judge panel wrote in their decision.

Langford’s Denver-based attorney, Howard Pincus, said he would not comment on the decision and a phone number listed for Langford was disconnected.

About 75 people were charged with various cockfighting offenses during the raid at the T.F.C. Cockfighting Facility south of Carnegie. The raid involved agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Between five and seven of the people cited were American Indians, according to documents.

In 2007, Sheldon Sperling, then-U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, said 70 people had been prosecuted in federal court for attending the cockfight, and 11 of the 70 also were also charged with transporting animals for participating in an animal fighting venture. Most of the 70 people entered guilty pleas and were fined $300 to $600. Fifteen illegal immigrants were taken into custody and deported shortly after. 

“Federal law outlaws animal fighting, whether or not the fight is held on Indian Country,” Sperling said at the time. “Oklahoma’s anti-cockfighting law is applicable in Indian country and game fowl enthusiasts should know that tribal lands offer no ‘safe haven’ for animal fighting anywhere in the state of Oklahoma.”

Linda Epperley, U.S. attorney for Oklahoma’s Eastern District, was not available for comment.

In 2002, Oklahoma voters approved a law that made holding a cockfight a felony while those in attendance could be charged with a misdemeanor.