Federal declinations falling in Indian Country

by Jun 5, 2013Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments




The Tribal Law and Order Act was enacted into law in 2010 with the main goal of getting more violent crimes prosecuted in Indian Country.  Several years in, and it appears to be working.

The Department of Justice released a report last week entitled “Indian Country Investigation and Prosecutions 2011-2012” tloa-report-cy-2011-2012 that shows a decrease in the amount of federal declinations, cases not taken for full prosecution, in Indian Country.

In the western North Carolina district (NCW), there were a total of 131 matters received in fiscal years 2005-09.  Fifty-three of those, or 42 percent, were declined.

According to the report, the number of NCW declinations had dropped to five in CY2011 and four in CY2012.

“I am encouraged by this report and the improvement it indicates for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as well as the benefits of enhanced reporting of this data for Tribes throughout the country,” said Jason Smith, EBCI tribal prosecutor.  “The measures taken by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General are vital, and they are working.  We are very fortunate, here in Cherokee, to have a U.S. Attorney so dedicated to improving criminal justice on this Reservation.  Increased cooperation and collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for us, has significantly improved our ability to seek justice in criminal prosecutions in Cherokee.”

Of the five NCW declinations in CY2011, three were declined due to insufficient evidence, one was referred to a different jurisdiction and one was declined due to prioritization of federal resources and interests.  In CY2012, two were declined due to insufficient evidence and two were referred to a different jurisdiction.

“Across the country, U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, and our other federal partners have been focused on fighting crime in Indian Country and strengthening the bond between federal and tribal law enforcement,” Attorney General Eric Holder stated in the report.  “This report on federal law enforcement efforts in Indian Country shows that we are beginning to see results, but there is more work to be done, and we will continue our commitment to strengthen public safety for tribal nations.”

In all of Indian Country in CY2011, 61 percent (631) of the declinations were due to insufficient evidence and 19 percent (197) were referred to a different jurisdiction.  In CY2012, 52 percent (505) were due to insufficient evidence and 24 percent (235) were referred.

Several main causes for declination were listed under the title of insufficient evidence including weak evidence (429 in CY2011, 351 in CY2012), lack of criminal intent (158 in CY2011 and 104 in CY2012) and witness problems (44 in CY2011 and 50 in CY2012).

Attorney General Holder concluded the report, “Our role as the primary prosecutor of serious crimes makes our responsibility to citizens in Indian Country unique and mandatory.  Accordingly, public safety in tribal communities is a top priority for the Department of Justice.”