BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Home  | Terms & Definitions: Indian Country Justice Statistics
Terms & Definitions: Indian Country Justice Statistics

Criminal jurisdiction in Tribal areas
Jurisdiction over offenses in Indian country may lie with federal, state, or tribal agencies depending upon the particular offense, the offender, the victim, and the offense location. For more information on tribal jurisdiction, see Census of Tribal Justice Agencies in Indian Country, 2002 (NCJ 205332) and also Jails in Indian Country (NCJ 1932400).

Indian country
Statutory term that includes all lands within an Indian reservation, dependent Indian communities, and Indian trust allotments (18 U.S.C. § 1151). Courts interpret § 1151 to include all lands held in trust for tribes or their members. See United States v. Roberts, 185 F.3d 1125 (10th Cir. 1999). Tribal authority to imprison American Indian offenders is limited to one year per offense by statute (25 U.S.C. § 1302), a $5,000 fine, or both.

Indian country jails
Indian country adult and juvenile detention centers, jails, and other correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities or the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Department of the Interior.

Public Law 83-280 (commonly referred to as Public Law 280 or P.L. 280)
Establishes criminal justice responsibilities among American Indian tribes with tribal land, the states in which tribes are located, and the federal government. Public Law 280 is mandatory or optional for 204 tribes, about two-thirds of the total in the lower 48 states. In states where P.L. 280 does not apply, the federal government retains criminal jurisdiction for major crimes committed under the Indian Country Crimes Act (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1152), the Indian Country Major Crimes Act (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1153), and the Assimilative Crimes Act (Title 18, United States Code, Section 13).

Public Law 93-638
The Indian Self-Determination of Act 1975, affords tribes the opportunity to provide for their own police departments and other institutional services through federal grants and contracts.

Tribal court
As defined in the Indian Tribal Justice Technical and Legal Assistance Act of 2000 (PL 106-559), the term tribal court, tribal court system, or tribal justice system means the entire judicial branch, and employees thereof, of an Indian tribe, including, but not limited to, traditional methods and for a for dispute resolution, trial courts, appellate courts, including inter-tribal appellate courts, alternative dispute resolution systems, and circuit rider systems, established by inherent tribunal authority whether or not they constitute a court of record.

Tribal jurisdiction
Tribal law enforcement agencies act as first responders to both felony and misdemeanor crimes. For most of Indian country, the federal government provides felony law enforcement concerning crimes by or against Indians. Certain areas of Indian country are under Public Law 83-280, as amended. P.L. 280 conferred jurisdiction on certain states over Indian country and suspended enforcement of the Major Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1153) and the General Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. § 1152) in those areas. Indian tribes retain concurrent jurisdiction to enforce laws in Indian country where P.L. 280 applies.

Tribal police powers
Authority to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all tribal members and the authority to arrest and detain non-Indians for delivery to state or federal authorities for prosecution. These tribal police powers are generally limited to tribal lands.


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