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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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What Are Federal Offenses on an Indian Reservation?

By Spodek Law Group | May 23, 2023

Understanding the Complex Relationship Between Tribal Governments and the Federal Government

Indian reservations in the United States are uniquely governed spaces that operate under tribal laws, making them distinct from federal and state jurisdictions. Commonly referred to as “Indian Country,” these designated areas have distinct legal complexities that affect criminal proceedings, interactions with federal agencies, and who possesses jurisdiction over specific crimes.

Jurisdiction Over Crimes in Indian Country

Three Major Federal Statutes determine which jurisdiction oversees criminal proceedings in Indian Country, based on the nature of the crime and the individuals involved.

1. Federal Jurisdiction for Crimes Involving Non-Indians

If a non-Indian commits a crime against an Indian victim in Indian Country, the case falls under federal jurisdiction, even for minor offenses. This statute ensures that the federal government can protect Native American victims from non-Indian offenders.

2. Federal Jurisdiction for Serious Crimes Involving Native Americans

When a serious crime, such as robbery, murder, or assault, is committed by or against a Native American in Indian Country, federal jurisdiction applies. However, this does not extend to lesser crimes, which are handled by the tribal court. The tribe can then conduct their criminal justice proceedings according to their traditions, and non-Indian offenders against other non-Indians in Indian Country may be prosecuted by the state government.

3. State Jurisdictions Over Indian Country

Certain states are granted jurisdiction over crimes occurring in their Indian Country regions will be the following states:

State Jurisdiction
California, Nebraska, Wisconsin Jurisdiction over all Indian Country
Oregon Jurisdiction over all Indian Country, except Warm Springs Reservation
Minnesota Jurisdiction over all Indian Country, except Red Lake Reservation

Prosecutions Involving Federal and Tribal Funds

Crimes related to the theft of tribal funds are subject to federal investigation. Multiple agencies, including the IRS, the Office of Indian Tribal Governments, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, may collaborate to find perpetrators of theft, embezzlement, or misappropriation of tribal resources. Among these criminal activities are:

  • Using tribal credit cards for personal gain
  • Misrepresenting the tribe’s federal status or treaty laws for tax purposes
  • Filing false forms to claim non-resident alien status
  • Misusing casino comps without playing games
  • Employing improper tax shelters or disguising corporate entities to evade taxes

Investigation Process of Federal and Tribal Fund Crimes

In such investigations, rumors often circulate before official charges are filed. Tribal police and FBI officials may collaborate to interview witnesses and gather evidence. The FBI presents its findings to a US Attorney’s Office prosecutor, and a grand jury decides whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with charges. Throughout this process, multiple groups work together, including:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office
  • FBI agents and investigators
  • Tribal investigators and police officers

Tribal Embezzlement Penalties

Federal felony charges can be brought against those who take more than $100 worth of property from a tribe. A conviction can result in fines and up to five years in federal prison. For amounts less than $100, a misdemeanor charge is imposed, which can lead to up to one year in jail. These embezzlement laws apply to both Indians and non-Indians.

To secure a conviction, the government must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes demonstrating that the accused individual knowingly and intentionally embezzled the property with the intent to deprive others of it.

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I was searching for a law firm with some power to help me deal with a warrant in New York . After 6 days I decided to go with Spodek Law Group. It helped that This law firm is well respected by not only the top law firms in New York , but the DA , Judge as well. I...

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