Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Federal Indian Law and Policy

Public Law 280

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In mandatory P.L. 280 jurisdictions, states have been given jurisdiction to criminally prosecute most of the misdemeanors and felonies committed in Indian country that the federal government would normally prosecute. While tribes have concurrent jurisdiction with states under the P.L 280 scheme, the federal government lacks jurisdiction to prosecute most Indian country crimes. In the usual, non-P.L. 280 situation, Indian country criminal jurisdiction is largely determined by looking at applicable laws and considering the following factors: 1) the status of the suspected perpetrator (Indian or non-Indian); 2) the status of the victim (Indian or non-Indian); and 3) the type of crime involved.

Within the P.L. 280 jurisdictions, since 1970, certain states have retroceded (given back) their jurisdiction over certain tribes and their lands to the federal government. Some of these states and tribes are Minnesota (Bois Forte Chippewa); Nebraska (Omaha, Winnebago, and Santee Sioux); Oregon (Burns Paiute and Umatilla); and Wisconsin (Menominee), but the list is not exhaustive.

It is important to note that Indian country status under 18 U.S.C. section 1151 is not lost by an assumption of criminal and civil jurisdiction by a state pursuant to P.L. 280 or another act of Congress. Tribes subject to state jurisdiction under P.L. 280 retain their inherent sovereignty over their members and their lands, and retain concurrent criminal jurisdiction with the state over misdemeanor offenses.

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