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Indian Country Criminal Justice: Departments of the Interior and Justice Should Strengthen Coordination to Support Tribal Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2011
93 pages
This study analyzed the challenges facing Indian tribes in adjudicating Indian-country crimes and Federal efforts to address these challenges, as well as the extent to which the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have collaborated with each other in supporting tribal justice systems.
The twelve tribes visited for this study reported several challenges in adjudicating crimes in Indian county; for example, tribes only have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by Indian offenders in Indian country. Also, until the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 was enacted in July 2010, tribes could only sentence convicted offenders up to 1 year in jail per offense. Lacking further jurisdiction and sentencing authority, tribes rely on the U.S. Attorneys' Offices (USAOs) to prosecute crime in Indian country. The tribes visited for the current study generally reported challenges in obtaining information on prosecutions from USAOs in a timely manner. USAOs are working with tribes to improve timely notifications about those cases in which USAOs decline to prosecute. The study recommends that the Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General direct the relevant DOI and DOJ programs to develop mechanisms to identify and share information related to tribal courts. Upon receiving this recommendation, DOI and DOJ concurred with it. In conducting this study, researchers interviewed tribal justice officials at 12 tribes in 4 States and reviewed Federal laws that pertain to Federal efforts in assisting tribes. Appended study methodology; Federal, State, and tribal jurisdiction over, and the prosecution of crime in Indian country; an overview of selected tribal courts; and Justice Department comments on this report