Department of Justice Releases Annual Report to Congress on Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions

The Department of Justice released today its annual report to Congress, Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions, which provides a range of enforcement statistics required under the Tribal Law and Order Act, as well as information about the progress of the Department’s initiatives to reduce violent crime and strengthen tribal justice systems.

The report reveals that in 2017, U.S. Attorney Offices prosecuted a majority of Indian country cases presented to them.  U.S. Attorney Offices declined prosecution of a minority of cases presented to them primarily due to insufficient evidence or referral to another prosecuting authority, such as a tribal prosecutor.  The report also shows that the FBI closed 12.5 percent more investigations in 2017 than in 2016 (see detailed findings below).

“The Department of Justice is committed to public safety in Indian country,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.  “We have demonstrated this commitment over the past two years by investing substantial resources and supporting innovative programs that empower federal and tribal prosecutors and build the capacity of tribal justice systems.  Today’s report demonstrates that our work makes a difference.  Lasting public safety improvements in Indian country are best achieved when federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies work together.”

“The Justice Department’s Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions Report reflects that the many coordinated efforts among United States Attorneys and tribal justice officials are making a difference,” said Trent Shores, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, and Chairman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Subcommittee on Native American Issues. “Our work continues, and we must be resolute, in order to meet the challenges prevalent in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. In August, the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Subcommittee met and renewed our commitment to finding meaningful and practical tools to help put an end to the disproportionate rates of violence afflicting Native Americans.  Among these, the department is expanding the use of cross-deputization agreements, access to criminal databases, funding for juvenile programs serving at-risk native youth, and services to victims and their families. We must continue to work together and find solutions to violent crime and drug trafficking in Indian Country. United States Attorneys are committed to upholding the federal trust responsibility and the rule of law in Indian Country.”

The Trump Administration has strengthened the Department’s commitment to Indian Country by prioritizing the reduction of violent crime throughout the United States—including in Indian Country. This reflects a recognition that Native Americans suffer from persistently high rates of violent crime, particularly domestic and sexual abuse of women and children, and like many communities in the United States, have been hit hard by both opioid and methamphetamine abuse.  

In April 2017, as part of the Department’s efforts under the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a series of actions the Department would take to support law enforcement and maintain public safety in Indian Country.

The Justice Department recognizes that investigating crime and prosecuting those responsible is critical to public safety in Indian Country. To that end, the Justice Department’s partnerships with tribes, as well as all federal, state and local law enforcement, are crucial to success. The Department deploys innovative programs such as the Tribal Access Program, Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and numerous grant programs that enhance partnerships, increase information sharing, build capacity for local criminal justice systems, and provide services to victims of crime.

According to the report, in 2017 implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) remained an important priority for the Department. Federal prosecutors continued to utilize the federal assault charges created by VAWA 2013.  In Calendar Year (CY) 2017, federal prosecutors filed cases against 139 defendants under VAWA 2013’s enhanced federal assault statutes, which include enhanced sentences for certain crimes of domestic violence such as strangulation and stalking. They obtained 134 convictions (an increase of 30% from CY 2016 (103)). Also in CY 2017, prosecutors filed cases against 43 defendants in Indian country cases using the domestic assault by a habitual offender statute, 18 U.S.C. § 117, and obtained 29 convictions.

Cooperation among federal and tribal law enforcement and victim advocates is key to successfully prosecuting sexual assault crimes in Indian country. As of 2017, every U.S. Attorney Office with Indian country responsibilities has developed federal sexual violence guidelines designed to improve the federal response to sexual abuse in tribal communities.

The report also notes that the Tribal Liaison Program remains one of the most important components of the Department’s efforts in Indian country. TLOA requires that the U.S. Attorney for each district with Indian country appoint at least one Assistant United States Attorney to serve as a Tribal Liaison for that district.  They foster and facilitate relationships between federal and tribal partners that are vital to reducing violent crime. As part of their duties, Tribal Liaisons assist in developing multi-disciplinary teams to combat child abuse, work with SART teams on sexual abuse response, conduct community outreach, and coordinate the prosecution of federal crimes.

The information contained in the report shows the following:

  • FBI’s CY 2017 statistics show a 12.5 percent increase in total closed investigations (2,210 total) compared to FBI’s CY 2016 statistics (1,960 total). The FBI has investigative responsibility for federal crimes committed on approximately 200 Indian Reservations. This responsibility is shared concurrently with BIA-OJS and other federal agencies with a law enforcement mission in Indian country
  • Approximately 79.5 percent (1,511 out of 1,900) of Indian country criminal investigations opened by the FBI were referred for prosecution.
  • Of the 699 Indian country investigations that the FBI closed administratively without referral for prosecution, the primary reason for closing (approximately 21 percent) was that the case did not meet statutory definitions of a crime or U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) prosecution guidelines. In addition, analysis of CY 2017 data indicates that 15 percent of investigations closed administratively were closed due to unsupported allegations, meaning no evidence of criminal activity was uncovered during the investigations. Another reason for non-referral (20 percent) was that the deaths under investigations were determined to be the result of accident, suicide, or natural causes.
  • 84 percent (141 out of 167) of the death investigations that were closed administratively by the FBI in CY 2017 were closed because the death was due to causes other than homicide (i.e., accidents, suicide, or natural causes).
  • In CY 2017, the USAOs resolved 2,390 Indian country matters.
  • The majority of Indian country criminal matters resolved by the USAOs in CY 2017 (1,499 out of 2,390) were prosecuted (charges filed in either District or Magistrate Court).
  • The USAO declination rate remained relatively steady. USAO data shows that in CY 2017, 37% (891) of all (2,390) Indian country matters resolved were declined. USAOs declined cases at a similar rate in prior years: 34% (903) of all Indian country matters resolved (2,666) in CY 2016; 39% (1,043) of all Indian country matters resolved (2,655) in CY 2015; 34% (989) of all Indian country matters resolved (2,886) in CY 2014; 34% (853) of all Indian country matters resolved (2,514) in CY 2013; 31% (965) of all Indian country matters resolved (3,097) in CY 2012; and 38% (1,042) of all Indian country matters resolved (2,767) in CY 2011.
  • The most common reason for declination by USAOs was insufficient evidence (70.9% in CY 2017, 68.0% in CY 2016, 71.7% in CY 2015, 59.6% in CY 2014, 55.6% in CY 2013, and 52% in CY 2012). The next most common reason for declination by USAOs was referral to another prosecuting authority (13.2% in CY 2017, 16.4% in CY 2016, 13.8% in CY 2015, 16.3% in CY 2014, 20.8% in CY 2013, and 24% in CY 2012).

The data presented in this report covers only those offenses reported to the FBI and federal prosecutors. The majority of criminal offenses committed, investigated, and prosecuted in Indian Country are adjudicated in tribal justice systems. In much of Indian Country, tribal law enforcement and tribal justice systems hold criminals accountable, protect victims, provide youth prevention and intervention programs, and confront precursors to crime such as alcohol and substance abuse. These efforts are often in partnership with federal agencies or accomplished with support from federal programs and federal funding opportunities.

Read the entire report at www.justice.gov/tribal/tloa.html

Read about the Justice Department’s efforts to increase public safety in Indian County at www.justice.gov/tribal/accomplishments.html

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Author: November 21, 2018

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