Jurisdiction is the authority of a court to deal with a particular type of dispute. Criminal jurisdiction is the authority
of a court to deal with a particular type of criminal offense. There are three different types of domestic sovereign governments
recognized by the laws of the United States: federal, tribal, and state (state sovereignty includes county and municipal governments).
When a crime occurs within Indian country, the law may allow that offense to be prosecuted in the courts of one or more of
these sovereigns and this website should be of some assistance. If a crime has occurred outside of Indian country, then depending
on what type of offense it is, the state court or federal court will likely have jurisdiction (this website does not deal
with criminal jurisdiction outside of Indian country).
There are several federal statutes which affect criminal jurisdiction
in Indian country. The Major Crimes Act (18 USC 1153) creates federal court jurisdiction for certain offenses committed by
Indians in Indian country; most of these are felonies (crimes which carry a maximum penalty of more than one year imprisonment).
The Indian Country Crimes Act, sometimes called the General Crimes Act, (18 USC 1152) creates federal court jurisdiction for
certain types of offenses committed by Indians against non-Indian victims and for all offenses committed by non-Indians against
Indian victims. Part of the Indian Civil Rights Act (25 USC 1302(a)(7)(B)) limits tribal court criminal jurisdiction to offenses
which carry a maximum penalty of no more than one year imprisonment (misdemeanors); however in 2010, Congress acknowledged tribal
court authority to handle some felony offenses if the tribal court meets certain standards; 25 USC 1302(b)-(d).
addition, there are US Supreme Court cases which also affect Indian country criminal jurisdiction. In Worcester v. Georgia
(31 US 515), the Court held that state criminal law does not apply in Indian country. However, this was later modified by
US v. McBratney (104 US 621) and Draper v. US (164 US 240) which held that state courts have exclusive jurisdiction over crimes
committed by non-Indians against non-Indian victims in Indian country. In Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta (__ US __), the Court
held that states have jurisdiction (concurrent with federal jurisdiction) to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against
Indians in Indian country. In US v. Lara (541 US 193), the Court held that tribal courts have criminal jurisdiction
over all members of federally recognized tribes, but in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe (435 US 191), the Court held that tribal
courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. In 2013 and 2022, Congress acknowledged tribal court authority
to handle certain domestic violence and other listed cases involving non-Indian defendants if the tribal court meets
certain standards; 25 USC 1304. In US v. Cooley (__ US __), the US Supreme Court upheld the inherent power of tribal police
officers to detain and search non-Indians suspected of criminal activity.
Statutes and Supreme Court decisions have
made the determination of Indian country criminal jurisdiction very complex. Jurisdiction for crimes in Indian country can
be determined by looking at: 1) the status of the perpetrator (Indian or non-Indian), 2) the status of the victim (Indian
or non-Indian), and 3) the type of offense invloved. This website has a link to a chart which can be helpful in figuring things
out for most tribal lands within the United States. You should be aware that Public Law 280 and other state specific and tribal
specific statutes exist which can change the usual jurisdictional set-up on a particular parcel of Indian country land from
the usual arrangement.
What Is Indian Country?