This is a significant step forward for justice on the tribal reservations, especially the women who are the victims of widespread domestic violenc
July 29, 2010

This is a significant step forward for justice on the tribal reservations, especially the women who are the victims of widespread domestic violence and sexual crimes:

A measure designed to ease stubbornly high rates of violent crime, including rape and sexual assault, within Indian reservations will be signed into law by President Obama on Thursday.

Advocates of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which took three years to put together and passed the Senate last week, say it will ensure that more crimes, including murders and serious assaults, are reported and prosecuted amid worries that many cases go unpunished.

The measure gives tribal courts tougher sentencing powers and sets stricter rules to gather and collect more data on crimes. Special U.S. prosecutors will be appointed to tackle what advocates of the law describe as an epidemic of violence.

The president is due to sign the bill into law during a ceremony at the White House on Thursday afternoon.

Supporters said the current congressional session was the most active in decades in improving conditions for Indian reservations. Earlier this year, Obama signed a law that boosted health-care provisions for Indian communities.

The reservations overall have violent-crime rates of more than twice the national average, according to a congressional investigation.

Indian Country Today has more:

Also, tribes prosecuting individuals for crimes that could land them in jail for more than a year must provide defendants with the same right to a lawyer that they would have in state or federal court.

“The 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act notably did not include a right to counsel even though it is a constitutional (6th Amendment) right that also applies to the states,” said Navajo lawyer Chris Stearns. “My understanding is that this giant exception was made because back then no one thought that tribes would be able to pay for attorneys, or that there were even attorneys around at all on the reservation.”

[...] Whitney Phillips, a spokeswoman for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a major champion of the bill in the House, said tribes that don’t have the resources to provide defense counsel or house inmates for longer sentences can continue to operate under the existing one-year sentencing provisions in the Indian Civil Rights Act, which does not require that defense counsel be provided.

“Because the provision is optional, it will not place any additional costs on tribes who choose not to participate in the enhanced sentencing provision,” Phillips said.

Hannah August, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said the law will not cost tribes anything unless they choose to exercise the enhanced sentencing authority it provides.

Of course, that places the cost burden on the tribes, and not all of them can afford it. So they'll be "allowed" to maintain a two-tiered system of justice if they can't pay for the better version -- which, come to think of it, makes them just like the rest of our country!

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