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The primary statutory tool for federal regulation of Tribal court criminal procedure is the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA). ICRA replicated most of the procedural protections in the Bill of Rights applicable to the States, as then interpreted by the Supreme Court. ICRA also sets out procedures Tribes must extend to criminal defendants in their courts, caps their sentencing authority, and defines their criminal jurisdiction.
Some parts of Indian country are the most dangerous places in the United States today, particularly for indigenous women and girls. They are exposed to a higher level of personal violence than any other women in the United States, mostly at the hands of non- Indians. This situation is due, in large measure, to jurisdictional voids in Indian country created by federal law.
Congress has amended ICRA four times since 1968. In 2010 it amended ICRA with the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA). TLOA authorized Tribes to exercise expanded sentencing authority if they adopt and implement additional criminal procedural protections beyond those required under the 1968 version of ICRA. Congress amended ICRA again in 2013 with the Violence Against Women Re-Authorization Act (VAWA 2013). These amendments provide Tribes a pathway for re-asserting criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians for the first time in generations. VAWA 2013 recognizes Tribes’ inherent authority to exercise jurisdiction over all persons who commit crimes in Indian country, but limits the reach of that jurisdiction to crimes involving dating or domestic violence or violations of protection orders. This is labeled “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” (SDVCJ). To exercise SDVCJ, a Tribe must adopt the procedural protections required by TLOA, and additional procedural protections required by VAWA 2013.
VAWA 2013 cabins SDVCJ in three ways, it: (1) creates an exception for crimes that only involve non-Indians as victims and perpetrators, (2) creates an exception for non- Indian defendants who lack ties to the Tribal community in which they commit their crimes, and (3) limits the offenses to which SDVCJ extends. These exceptions and limitations incorporate facts and circumstances that are often referred to as “jurisdictional.”
Gross, Jordan, "Taking Stock: Open Questions and Unfinished Business Under the VAWA Amendments to the Indian Civil Rights Act" (2022). Faculty Law Review Articles. 203.