INDIGENOUS AMERICANS | LAW

Crime Jurisdiction on Tribal Lands

Who handles what?

Kemal M. Lepschoque, LL.M.
Friendly Legal
Published in
7 min readJun 3, 2024

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As you may already know, tribes can make and enforce their own laws for crimes that their members commit on their land. However, the federal government and state governments can also be involved in handling crimes on tribal land. Whether they get involved depends on what kind of crime happened and whether the people involved are Native American or not.

Let’s assume a non-Indian commits a murder against an Indian (a Native American) on a reservation. In this case, the federal government has the authority to handle the crime. This authority comes from the General Crimes Act of 1817, which states that the federal government can deal with crimes either by Indians against non-Indians or by non-Indians against Indians on tribal land. However, if an Indian has already been tried and punished by a tribal court for a crime, the federal government may not get involved.

Now, consider a situation where one Indian murders another Indian on a reservation. Here, the federal government also has the authority to handle the crime. This is because the Major Crimes Act of 1885 specifically allows the federal government to deal with serious crimes committed by Indians against other Indians on tribal land. There are nine major crimes that are covered by the act:

Murder, Manslaughter, Rape, Assault with intent to kill, Arson, Burglary, Larceny, Sexual assault, Child abuse.

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Kemal M. Lepschoque, LL.M.
Friendly Legal

Lawyer | Traveller | Polyglot | 27 x Boosted ✨ adept at simplifying complex juridical concepts into human-friendly language & 60+ countries visited