Embracing Tribal Sovereignty to Eliminate Criminal Jurisdiction Chaos

This Note argues that the current federal laws regarding tribal criminal jurisdiction are contrary to existing policies that recognize inherent tribal sovereignty, and that to fully restore tribal sovereignty and reduce reservation crime rates, Congress should revise the MCA and the TLOA to comprehensively address the legal barriers that adversely affect tribes’ ability to prosecute crimes committed within their geographic borders. Part I outlines the historical progression of laws addressing criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country and identifies the problems with the law’s disregard and displacement of tribal sovereignty. Part II examines the current state of criminal jurisdiction on reservations-focusing on the lack of tribal input, legal ambiguities, and the under-inclusive nature of the existing laws-and argues that recent shifts in federal policy support broader recognition of inherent tribal sovereignty. Part III explains why the current TLOA, when examined in the context of historical acts of Congress and court decisions, does not go far enough to fix either the barriers imposed on tribal sovereignty or the problems of reservation crime. Part IV proposes revisions to the MCA and the TLOA to promote tribal sovereignty and simplify criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.