Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013

On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, or "VAWA 2013." VAWA 2013 recognizes tribes' inherent power to exercise "special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction" (SDVCJ) over certain defendants, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country. This new law generally took effect on March 7, 2015, but also authorized a voluntary "Pilot Project" to allow certain tribes to begin exercising SDVCJ sooner. The first Tribes including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon, the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation were selected for this Pilot Project. Materials for all Pilot Project members may be found here.

Tribal Jurisdiction over Crimes of Domestic Violence

VAWA 2013 and Tribal Jurisdiction Over Crimes of Domestic Violence

What are tribes able to do under the new law?

Tribes are able to exercise their sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence both Indians and non-Indians who assault Indian spouses or dating partners or violate a protection order in Indian country.VAWA 2013 also clarifies tribes' sovereign power to issue and enforce civil protection orders against Indians and non-Indians.

When does this new law take effect?

Tribes may criminally prosecute non-Indian abusers beginning March 7, 2015.

Will this be voluntary?

Yes, tribes are free to participate, or not. The authority of U.S. Attorneys (and state/local prosecutors, where they have jurisdiction) to prosecute crimes in Indian country remains unchanged.

What crimes will be covered?

Covered offenses will be determined by tribal law. But tribes' criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians will be limited to the following, as defined in VAWA 2013:

  • Domestic violence;
  • Dating violence; and
  • Criminal violations of protection orders.

What crimes will not be covered?

The following crimes will generally not be covered:

  • Crimes committed outside of Indian country;
  • Crimes between two non-Indians;
  • Crimes between two strangers, including sexual assaults;
  • Crimes committed by a person who lacks sufficient ties to the tribe, such as living or working on its reservation; and
  • Child abuse or elder abuse that does not involve the violation of a protection order.

What was the Pilot Project?

A tribe could start prosecuting non-Indian abusers sooner than March 7, 2015, if:

  • The tribe's criminal justice system fully protected defendants' rights under federal law;
  • The tribe applied to participate in the new Pilot Project; and
  • The Justice Department granted the tribe's request and set a starting date.

What rights will defendants have under the new law?

A tribe must:

  • Protect the rights of defendants under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, which largely tracks the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, including the right to due process.
  • Protect the rights of defendants described in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, by providing:
    • Effective assistance of counsel for defendants;
    • Free, appointed, licensed attorneys for indigent defendants;
    • Law-trained tribal judges who are also licensed to practice law;
    • Publicly available tribal criminal laws and rules; and
    • Recorded criminal proceedings.
  • Include a fair cross-section of the community in jury pools and not systematically exclude non-Indians.
  • Inform defendants ordered detained by a tribal court of their right to file federal habeas corpus petitions.

Is there new funding for the tribes?

In VAWA 2013, Congress authorized up to $25 million total for tribal grants in fiscal years 2014 to 2018, but Congress has not yet appropriated any of those funds. However, tribes may continue to apply for funding through DOJ's Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), which can support VAWA implementation. Additional federal funding sources may also be available.

How can we learn more?

Please contact the Justice Department's Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ) at 202-514-8812 or Office on Violence against Women (OVW) at 202-307-6026, or visit

Updated March 26, 2015

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