Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Federal Indian Law and Policy

Two Native American police officers standing in front of the Indian Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial.

Criminal Jurisdiction

Criminal jurisdiction is the authority of a government to define criminal offenses and to prosecute those charged with committing them. When a crime occurs within Indian Country, the law may allow the offender to be prosecuted in the courts of one or more of the three previously mentioned sovereigns: federal, tribal, and state.

Federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions have made the determination of Indian Country criminal jurisdiction very complex. Jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian Country can be determined by looking at applicable laws and: 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 offense involved. The complexity is compounded by the location of a tribe, and the state or states in which a tribe's lands are located. Some states have been given either full or partial civil and/or criminal jurisdiction over tribal members on tribal lands pursuant to Public Law 280 or other Congressional acts.

Trying to determine whether jurisdiction is held by the federal, tribal, or state government, or whether it is held concurrently by more than one of them, is sometimes simple, once a few basic facts are established, but can also be very complex. Some supplemental information has been provided here as an introduction to this topic.

Select the link for more information. Then, select the right arrow to continue.

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