Federal Indian Law and Policy
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.
- Public Law 280
- Other federal statutes affecting criminal jurisdiction
- Supreme Court cases addressing criminal jurisdiction
- Who is an Indian for criminal jurisdiction purposes
- When no special jurisdictional statutes apply
- Which government has jurisdiction
- Jurisdiction conferred on a state by Public Law 280
- When jurisdiction has been conferred by another statute