Tribal Judge’s Sexual Assault Bench Book and Bench Card

Tribal Legal Code Resource: Tribal Judge’s Sexual Assault Bench Book and Bench Card was developed by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in cooperation with the Office on Violence Against Women as a resource for tribal judges who hear sexual assault cases in tribal courts. It provides background information on important sexual assault and tribal jurisdictional issues, as well as providing guidance in handling key issues at various stages of a sexual assault criminal trial.

This Bench Book provides tribal judges with key legal and technical information specifically related to criminal sexual assault actions. It provides essential information on the common responses of sexual assault victims, as well as common characteristics of rapists. Additionally, many of the key issues in a sexual assault trial are discussed, including common evidentiary issues, procedural considerations and sentencing considerations. This Bench Book helps a judge navigate a sexual assault action in tribal court.

In addition, this Bench Book provides helpful information to tribal judges who face a sexual assault, charged as part of another crime. This may happen when the tribe has an inadequate sexual assault criminal law, or no law at all, or there is insufficient evidence to prove sexual assault and another crime is charged. Therefore, it is common in tribal courts for sexual assault to be prosecuted as other crimes, such as simple assault, and it is important for a tribal judge to be alert when this situation occurs.

Responding with an understanding of sexual assault victims and perpetrators is useful regardless of the charge. Using evidence, court rules, as well as other trial considerations in this Bench Book, which provide protection to complainants, are helpful in all cases involving sexual assault, regardless of the criminal charge.

The Bench Card (located in the Appendix) is a concise checklist of items which may be considered in a case involving sexual assault. It is something that can be easily copied for use during a trial. Each item in the Bench Card is discussed in more detail in the Bench Book.