Category Archives: Tribal Courts

New DUI Court Helps Native Americans

An Albuquerque, New Mexico court is taking bold and progressive steps in stopping Native Americans from committing DUI.

The newly established Urban Native American Drug Court uses nine months of treatment and supervision instead of incarceration to deter alcoholism. In order to qualify, each defendant must be Native American and have been convicted of more than two DWIs.

“The idea is to try to incorporate some of the traditional beliefs into healing and wellness,” Judge Maria Dominguez said.

Officials said the biggest challenge is a fear of losing their spirituality. David Lente, a Native American substance abuse counselor in Albuquerque, provides the therapeutic component of the program by integrating activities cultural activities, like talking circles and community service projects. The hope is to reconnect Native American defendants with the positive aspects of their culture.

Court officials said drug court, as a whole, is a much more effective tool than jail time. They said only 6 percent of those who participate end up getting arrested again for drunken driving.

My opinion? This program is an excellent progressive step forward. Typically, alcohol abuse is symptomatic of something much worse taking place within the abuser. They may be suffering with physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health issues and using alcohol to self-medicate. Kudos to Judge Dominguez in the continued success of this program.

Tribes Free To Prosecute Non-Indians for Certain Crimes

Native American Women ilustration

The Skagit County Herald reported that American Indian tribes that meet certain criteria now have the authority to prosecute non-Indians for a limited set of domestic violence crimes, a shift supporters hope will reduce the high rate of violence on reservations.

Apparently, three tribes in Arizona, Oregon and Washington state have exercised that power for more than a year under a pilot project approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Together, the tribes have brought more than two dozen domestic violence cases against non-Indians who live or work on their reservations, according to the National Congress of American Indians. In Washington, the Tulalip Tribe was approved as part of the pilot project in February 2014.

A 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stripped tribes of any criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians on their reservations. 

However, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 allowed tribes to charge non-Indians who are married to or in a partnership with a tribal member for domestic violence crimes and violations of protection orders. The Justice Department has said that American Indian women suffer from domestic violence at rates more than double national averages.

To ease concerns from some members of Congress, tribes have to ensure that jury pools include non-Indians and that their court systems afford defendants the same rights as state and federal courts do. The changes to the Violence Against Women Act also allow defendants to seek review of a tribal court decision in federal court.