U.S. Says It Pursues More Prosecutions on Indian Lands – The Justice Department said this week that it had increased its rate of criminal prosecutions in Indian country by more than 50 percent in the past four years, a period in which violent crime on the nation’s Indian reservations has soared and tribes have complained of lawlessness.
The data, part of a Justice Department report released Thursday, found that United States attorneys had prosecuted about 69 percent of the 3,145 criminal cases referred to their offices from Indian country last year — an improvement over 2011, when the federal government tried 63 percent of 2,840 criminal cases in Indian country.
The report comes amid a wave of violent crime on Indian lands and criticism of the Justice Department by tribal officials who say United States attorneys pursue far too few violent criminal cases on reservations.
Prosecutors say they must decline many Indian country cases — about 60 percent of the total — because of a lack of evidence.
Federal prosecutions of crime on Indian lands rose by nearly 54 percent from the 2008 fiscal year, when the Justice Department prosecuted 1,091 cases, to the 2012 fiscal year, when it prosecuted 1,677 cases, the report said.
The department has jurisdiction over most serious offenses committed on reservations, including murder, rape and white-collar crimes.
Previous government data have cited violent crimes, which presented a more pessimistic picture: that the Justice Department files charges in only about half of Indian country murder investigations and one-third of sexual assault cases. The data also showed the number of prosecutions by United States attorneys of violent crimes fell by 3 percent from 2000 to 2010, even as crime on some reservations increased by 50 percent or more.
But the report released this week does not separate the number of federal prosecutions for violent crimes. Instead, the report groups them with drug cases and white-collar crime.
On Friday, Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, said the analysis did not specify figures for violent crime because the department was not required to do so by the Tribal Law and Order Act, a 2010 law that mandates that the department release prosecution rates in Indian country. (This week’s report is the agency’s first since the law went into effect.)
Figures included in the report, however, show that violent crime continues to plague reservations.
For instance, United States attorneys with jurisdiction over serious crime on Arizona’s reservations declined to prosecute 37 murders, 153 assaults and 164 sexual assaults in 2011 and 2012, the report said. The analysis did not say how many murders, assaults and sexual assaults had been prosecuted on Arizona’s reservations in the same period.