Pilot Program To Give Tulalip Tribes Legal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians

Feb 6, 2014

The Tulalip Tribes will be among the first Indian tribes in the country to have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic violence on the reservation.

The Snohomish County tribe, along with the Umatilla in Oregon and the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona, have been granted the authority under a pilot program of the Violence Against Women Act.

Theresa Pouley, the chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court, said the new jurisdiction will make a drastic difference in how the tribe can keep the community safe.

"When you have victimization happening in your community, the best resource to address it is a local resource. And in Indian Country that’s tribal courts and tribal police," Pouley said.

The domestic violence rate for Native women is among the highest among all racial groups, Pouley added.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Native American tribes could not exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. In other words, there was a gap in the legal system when it came to fighting crime in Indian Country, said Ye -Ting Woo, an assistant U.S. Attorney.

"The tribes did not have the ability to prosecute, for example, non-Indian offenders who are committing domestic violence against their intimate partners: their spouse, their dating partner, the person that they intimately share a household with when that crime occurs on Indian land," Woo said. 

Last year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act granted the domestic violence criminal jurisdiction to all Indian tribes starting next year. But a pilot program is allowing the three Western tribes to start prosecuting later this month.

The three tribes were granted the authority to start early based on their criminal justice systems, including adequate safeguards protecting the rights of defendants.