Why do our prosecutors take it so easy on drug offenders? With the number of resources and opportunities our Tribe has, yet we are seeing an increase in drug use and distribution.
We hear your frustration, and we share it. The Tribe is extraordinarily blessed to have resources available to its members that other jurisdictions cannot afford to offer and yet we continue to experience the destructive and deadly consequences of the unlawful distribution and use of controlled substances (drugs).
While the drug problem is so much bigger than any one group can solve, we will try to address what we in the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor have done and are doing and how we need your help in our effort to do better.
As Tribal Prosecutors, we are responsible for, among other duties, advising and assisting in the investigative work of Cherokee law enforcement. What that looks like in operation as it pertains to drug crimes is that the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor (OTP) meets almost daily with the Narcotics Division of CIPD, the OTP reviews all search warrants related to the investigation of drug crimes (and other crimes) and are closely connected with the execution of search warrants. We are on scene whenever possible for every fatal drug overdose and have attended autopsies connected with these investigations. We are available at all hours (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to all Cherokee law enforcement for consultation regarding the charging of drug crimes (and all other crimes). Once a crime is charged, we work to obtain a conviction or another just resolution for all drug crimes committed on the Qualla Boundary.
Statistically, Cherokee law enforcement officers have continued to charge crimes related to controlled substances (drugs), and the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor has obtained convictions related to those crimes—more than 240 convictions for drug crimes in the last three years. In Cherokee, unlike in other jurisdictions, every conviction for drug possession or distribution requires active jail time. In the 2021 fiscal year, the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor obtained convictions in all crime categories imposing more than four times the number of active years imposed in 2018; however, drugs are still wreaking havoc on the community. We firmly believe that active jail time alone is not the most effective strategy for reducing the harms suffered by the Tribe and its members when it comes to drugs.
Our job as Prosecutors is to seek justice in connection with drug crimes and all other crimes committed on Boundary. Justice is not one size fits all. We consider a number of factors when recommending what we consider to be a just resolution to any matter. These factors include considerations such as a Defendant’s criminal history, the strength of the case, its factual weaknesses, any evidentiary concerns that would stand in the way of a successful prosecution, the concerns and harms suffered by any victim, and whether there are other remedies that may be available outside of those within the criminal justice system. With these and other factors considered, the larger question is “what resolution would be the best to keep the defendant from committing this crime again?” Will jail time alone be a deterrent? What happens when they get out of jail? Will they go home where we know others are using controlled substances, too? What is the root of the substance use issue? Childhood trauma, domestic violence, stress, depression, or money? All these things must be considered when trying to put together an idea of what will serve justice and attempt to deter the defendant from future criminal activity. We look to other Tribal agencies and programs for feedback on these questions, and we welcome feedback from community members, too, on what you think best serves the Tribe in terms of drug offenses and all offenses.
We also ask for help from the community in helping those of us in the criminal justice system successfully identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals responsible for all crimes in this community.
If you see crime occurring, please report it through Dispatch (Cherokee Police Dispatch Center 828-497-4131).
If you believe someone is violating terms of his or her release from incarceration, please report it through Dispatch.
Please cooperate with law enforcement when approached.
Please respond to the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor when we reach out to you.
Please appear in Court when asked.
Please communicate with us directly if you are the victim or witness in any criminal matter.
We also ask for your help in creating and nurturing Tribal community and cultural initiatives that will better ensure successful transitions from incarceration.
Thank you for the question, and we welcome feedback about how you think we might do better and any other questions you may have about the functions of our office.
(Editor’s Note: The One Feather, as a service to the community, will provide any program or entity of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, opportunities to respond to community questions. If you are leadership in a program or entity, contact the editor for details.)