Tribes in Montana still looking at jurisdiction provisions in VAWA

The Fort Peck Tribal Court in Montana. Photo from FPTC

Tribes in Montana are looking at their laws and court systems as they determine whether they will exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence offenders.

The Fort Peck Tribes are the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to comply with the Violence Against Women Act. But others aren't ready yet.

“First it has to go through the Legislature of the tribe for approval, because it has a lot of funding requirements,” Robert LaFontaine, the prosecutor for the Crow Tribe, told The Billings Gazette. “There has to be a commitment by the tribe.”

Among other requirements, tribes must protect the constitutional rights of defendants and must provide an attorney for those who can't afford one. The law also requires juries to reflect the entire reservation community, Indian and non-Indian alike.

“We are certainly examining the requirements, and we are also paying close attention the development of some of the defining terms,” Judge Storm Olson of the Chippewa Cree Tribe told the paper.

S.47, the 2013 law that reauthorized VAWA, recognizes the "inherent power" of tribes to arrest, prosecute and punish non-Indians for certain domestic violence offenses. The non-Indian defendant must be tied to the community in order to fall under tribal jurisdiction.

Get the Story:
Few Montana tribes ready to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence (The Billings Gazette 3/13)

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