Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Pilot Project Report

On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) into law.1 For the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court stripped tribal governments of their criminal authority over non-Indians in Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe (1978),2 VAWA 2013 recognized and reaffirmed the inherent sovereign authority of Indian tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction over certain non-Indians who violate protection orders or commit dating violence or domestic violence against Indian victims on tribal lands.3 Known as Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ), this limited tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians has fundamentally changed the landscape of tribal criminal jurisdiction in the modern era. Communities currently exercising SDVCJ have increased safety and justice for victims who had too often slipped through the cracks.

Although the law did not take general effect until March 7, 2015, VAWA 2013 created a “Pilot Project” that enabled Indian tribes who received prior approval from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to exercise SDVCJ on an accelerated basis.4 After consultation with tribal governments, DOJ established a process for interested tribes to submit applications demonstrating that the tribe was in compliance with the federal law and afforded adequate due process to non-Indian defendants.5 DOJ approved three tribes —the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) in Oregon, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington—to implement SDVCJ in February 2014. Two additional tribes—the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in North and South Dakota—were approved to exercise SDVCJ on March 6, 2015, the last day of the pilot project period.

All five of the pilot project tribes participated along with 40 other tribes in an Inter-Tribal Technical-Assistance Working Group on SDVCJ Intertribal Working Group (ITWG), which is composed of tribes who expressed preliminary interest in exploring implementation of SDVCJ to DOJ and agreed to work peer-to-peer to answer questions about implementation of SDVCJ and develop best practices.

This report provides a brief report on activities during the Pilot Project period (February, 2014 through March 6, 2015) and shares recommendations for next steps.