Thursday, July 29, 2010

Obama signs Tribal Law and Order Act

Listen here to NPR's report about the new law. Essentially, this law mandates greater cooperation between federal authorities and tribal authorities regarding prosecution of felonies. If the U.S. government decides not to prosecute, the tribe must be notified so that it may make a decision about prosecuting. Currently, the U.S. government decides not to prosecute in many cases, but it does not necessarily pass the files onto the tribes, who are sovereigns that often have concurrent jurisdiction. An excerpt from Carolyn Beeler's report follows:
The new law also increases the maximum sentence that can be handed down in tribal court, now up to three years, and it provides more training to law enforcement officials on how to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault.
Sarah Deer is a tribal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota. She says the new law is a huge win for Native American women. As a 2008 NPR series revealed, they suffered high sexual assault rates on reservations as a result of problems in law enforcement.

Professor SARAH DEER (Professor of Tribal Law, William Mitchell College of Law): We've talked to victims whose cases seem to have disappeared. They don't know who's investigating, if anyone. They can't get phone calls returned. Improved collaboration and communication is going to make a big difference for victims.

* * *

Prof. DEER: When you have confusion about even who's supposed to respond to a call, and you have confusion about the investigation process, all of that added together, victims fall through the crack pretty quickly.

The story also touches on the resource and spatial challenges facing tribal law enforcement. Here's a quote from Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, a sponsor of the law:
We have a reservation that's the size of the state of Connecticut that had nine law enforcement officials - nine. That meant a violent crime in progress called in to law enforcement, you might not have someone show up till later in the day or the next day to address it.
The rate of violent crime on Indian reservations is more than twice that elsewhere in the U.S.

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