In the United States today, a little less than 2.5 percent of land is classified as an American Indian reservation. Even though Indian reservations make up a relatively small part of land in the United States, the topic of criminal jurisdiction and criminal law concerning Indian reservations does come up from time to time and is worth considering, as it can be a complicated topic.
In general, criminal jurisdiction related to Indian reservations is determined as follows:
Crime Committed on an Indian reservation, Individual Remains on the Indian reservation
The tribal police force will have jurisdiction to arrest the individual, as will Federal agents or state police officers such as Highway Patrol. However, county or city police officers will not have authority to arrest the individual under these circumstances.
Crime committed on an Indian reservation, Individual Leaves the Indian reservation
The tribal police force will not have jurisdiction to arrest the individual. However, Federal agents or state, county, or city police will have authority to arrest the individual.
Crime committed off an Indian reservation, Individual Enters an Indian reservation
The tribal police force as well as Federal agents and state, county, and city police will have authority to arrest the individual.
For example, assume an individual is driving while intoxicated on a road outside of an Indian reservation. A County Sheriff observes erratic driving behavior that he believes may indicate the person is intoxicated. Therefore, the County Sheriff begins to pursue the individual. The individual drives onto an Indian reservation, where the County Sheriff continues pursuit until the individual pulls over.
Since the County Sheriff observed the suspected illegal behavior while the individual was outside of the Indian reservation, the County Sheriff has the authority to pursue the individual onto the Indian reservation and, if the facts prove out that the person was intoxicated, make an arrest on the Indian reservation for DUI.
The allowed extension of the jurisdiction of local law enforcement as noted in this example is to prevent a person from intentionally fleeing onto an Indian reservation in an attempt to escape the police.
Other factors may exist that complicate the general jurisdiction outline noted above:
- Tribal police force existence and powers
Some tribes do not have their own tribal police force, in which case local law enforcement may have additional jurisdiction to handle crimes committed on an Indian reservation. In addition, some tribal police forces are recognized by the state and may therefore pursue individuals off their Indian reservation.
- Type of crime.
In cases where a crime is severe, possibly if it is a felony rather than a misdemeanor, local law enforcement may have additional authority to enter an Indian reservation and arrest the individual.
- Language in Indian treaty
Depending on the language in the treaty between the Indian tribe and the government, non-tribal police may have additional jurisdiction than what is outlined above.
Hiring a DUI Lawyer
Remember the information above is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. If you have been arrested or accused of a crime on an Indian reservation, you should seek the help of a criminal defense attorney, DUI attorney, or other legal representative as appropriate based on the crime. Given the overlapping laws and jurisdictions of Indian reservations and the rest of the United States, it is important to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side to help determine what laws apply to your situation.
- DUI: Five Common Penalties (criminaldefensehome.com)
- Alcohol Related Crimes, Part 1 – DUI (criminaldefensehome.com)
- Alcohol Related Crimes, Part 2 – Public Intoxication (criminaldefensehome.com)
- Alcohol Related Crimes, Part 3 – Open Container Laws (criminaldefensehome.com)
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