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What are Federal Offenses on an Indian Reservation?  

November 3, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys
What Are Federal Offenses on an Indian Reservation?
Indian reservations are not generally subject to the laws of the federal US government. They operate using tribal law and have tribal law enforcement officials. Indian Country refers to all of the land in the US that has been specifically designated as part of an Indian reservation. There are a variety of complexities to the way that tribal governments and the federal government interact.

Different crimes fall under different jurisdictions depending upon the circumstances. For example, it makes a difference whether the crime involved an Indian or non-Indian individual, which state the offense occurred in, and how serious the offense was. Currently, three federal statutes have an effect on the criminal proceedings in Indian Country.

The first refers to any crimes that are committed by non-Indians toward Indian victims while in Indian Country. If a crime meets these circumstances, the situation falls under federal jurisdiction no matter how serious the offense was.

The second statute says that any crime of a certain nature committed in Indian Country is part of the federal jurisdiction if the offense is committed against or by a Native American. However, the crime must be robbery, burglary, arson, assault that causes serious harm, assault with a weapon, assault with the intent to kill, assault of someone under 16 years old, kidnapping, incest, maiming, manslaughter, or murder.

In keeping with this statute, any non-major crime that is committed by a Native American against another Native American while in Indian Country is in the jurisdiction of the tribal court. The tribe can choose their criminal justice proceedings accordingly. Any crimes by non-Indians against non-Indians in Indian Country may be prosecuted by the state government.

The last federal statute states that certain states are given jurisdiction over crimes in part or all of the state’s Indian Country. The states with jurisdiction over all Indian country include California, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Oregon has jurisdiction over all Indian Country except Warm Springs Reservation, while Minnesota has jurisdiction over everything except Red Lake Reservation.

Prosecutions Involving Federal and Tribal Funds

Some federal investigations may occur when there has been a theft of tribal funds. These may be investigated by the IRS, the Office of Indian Tribal Governments, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These agencies may also work in conjunction with each other.

Some of the most heavily prosecuted acts related to tribal funds are:

  • Stealing, embezzling, or misappropriating tribal funds
  • Embezzling from tribal businesses
  • Using a tribal credit card for personal gain
  • Misrepresenting the tribe’s federal status for tax purposes
  • Misrepresenting treaty laws to make improper tax exceptions
  • Filing false forms to claim non-resident alien status
  • Misusing casino comps without playing the games
  • Using improper tax shelters
  • Disguising corporate entities to evade unemployment taxes

Investigation Process

When an investigation involves federal or tribal funds, the first people often hear about it is through rumors. Tribal police and FBI officials may work together to try to interview witnesses. If the FBI determines that there is enough evidence to create a case, they will explain their investigation to a US Attorney’s Office prosecutor.

Once the case has a prosecutor, a grand jury will eventually be convened. They will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges. In an investigation like this, the following groups work together:

  • The US DOJ
  • The US Attorney’s Office
  • FBI agents and investigators
  • Tribal investigators
  • Tribal police officers

Tribal Embezzlement Penalties

If a person takes more than 100 dollars worth of property from a tribe, they will have committed a federal felony. The penalty for a conviction can include both fines and up to five years sentenced to federal prison. If the amount of property is less than 100 dollars, the crime is a misdemeanor that has a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

The embezzlement laws apply to both Indians and non-Indians.

The government must prove every element of the crime. They have to prove that the individual willingly embezzled the property and intended to deprive others of it.

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