Criminal Jurisdiction and Law Enforcement: Areas for State-Tribal Cooperation
Criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country can be a confusing area of law. The rules have created a patchwork of state, tribal and federal jurisdiction that vary depending on the type of crime committed, the identity of the perpetrator, the identity of the victim and the location of the crime. As a result, there is great opportunity for state-tribal cooperation in this area.
The current jurisdictional framework has produced instances in which no single government has the authority to exercise full jurisdiction, absent some type of cooperative agreement. The confusion and possible jurisdictional gaps have contributed to the disproportionately high crime rates and under-prosecution of crimes, which negatively affect Native and non-Native citizens alike. Low prosecution rates send the message that crimes committed in Indian Country will not be taken seriously. In addition, understaffed and underfunded tribal law enforcement agencies struggle to respond, while state law enforcement personnel may not have the authority to enter into the reservation to address crimes committed by non-Indians unless a prior agreement exists between the state and tribal agencies.
Cooperation among the state and tribal judicial systems and law enforcement agencies—including cross-educational initiatives that provide information to state and tribal officials about the other’s system of law and jurisdictional authority—can be very helpful in ensuring that crimes committed in Indian Country are appropriately prosecuted. Such efforts can result in reduced crime rates, both on the reservations, throughout the state in which they are located and across the country.