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Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Federal Indian Law and Policy

Supreme Court cases addressing criminal jurisdiction

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The United States Supreme Court has addressed the topic of Indian country criminal jurisdiction on numerous occasions. Some of the important cases are:

  • Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832): The Court held that state criminal law does not apply in Indian country. However, this was later modified by U.S. v. McBratney, 104 U.S 621 (1881) and Draper v. U.S., 164 U.S. 240 (1896), which held that state courts have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians against non-Indian victims in Indian country.
  • Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978): The Court held that tribal courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for crimes committed in Indian country.
  • U.S. v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193 (2004): The Court held that tribal courts have criminal jurisdiction over all members of federally recognized tribes for crimes committed in Indian country.


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