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Press Release

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to Prosecute Domestic Violence Cases Under VAWA 2013

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Oregon

Pilot Project Allows Tribal Prosecution of Non-Indian Abusers For the First Time in More Than Three Decades

MISSION, Ore. – The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (“CTUIR”) will be one of three American Indian tribes to be the first in the nation to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over crimes of domestic and dating violence, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status, under a pilot project authorized by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (“VAWA 2013”).  Besides the CTUIR, two other tribes, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, will also begin exercising special criminal jurisdiction under VAWA 2013.

“Umatilla has once again shown that it is a national leader in criminal justice reform,” said Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.  “This expanded jurisdiction will give Umatilla tribal court the authority it needs to protect victims of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable.”

The Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 expands the inherent jurisdiction of tribes that meet certain conditions to prosecute non-Indian domestic violence offenses perpetrated against Indian victims.  It also permits those tribes to prosecute non-Indian
protection order violations when the protected person is an Indian.  Such authority is limited to non-Indians who reside, go to school, or work on a tribe’s reservation.  To exercise this enhanced authority, a tribe must guarantee certain rights to defendants similar to those guaranteed by the United States Constitution, such as the right to a public defender and effective assistance of counsel.  Tribes must also include non-Indians in jury pools.  The CTUIR meets these requirements.

From February 20, 2014 forward, any non-Indian who commits a qualifying crime in the Indian country of the CTUIR will be subject to prosecution in tribal court.  A copy of the Criminal Code is available on the CTUIR’s website.  Since this is an exercise of the CTUIR’s inherent sovereignty, any tribal prosecution would not preclude the United States Attorney’s Office from also prosecuting the non-Indian defendant in federal court for the same offense.

"This is important not only for the CTUIR in exercising and expanding our sovereignty, but for the sovereignty of all tribes,” said Umatilla Board of Trustees Chair Gary Burke.  “I am proud of the work and dedication of staff, the Court, the Law and Order Committee, and the General Counsel to support and push this effort forward.  Once again, CTUIR is blazing a path forward for the good of all tribes.”

For over thirty years, tribes have been prohibited from exercising criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants.  Even a violent crime committed by a non-Indian husband against his Indian wife, in the presence of her Indian children, in their home on the Indian reservation, could not be prosecuted by the tribe.  In granting the pilot-project requests of the Umatilla, Pascua Yaqui, and Tulalip tribes today, the United States is recognizing and affirming the tribes’ inherent power to exercise “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over all persons, regardless of their Indian or non-Indian status.

The Department of Justice is posting notices of the pilot-project designation on the Tribal Justice and Safety Web site ( and in the Federal Register. In addition, each tribe’s application questionnaire and related tribal laws, rules, and policies will be posted on the Web site. These materials will serve as a resource for those tribes that may also wish to participate in the pilot project or to commence exercising “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” in the future.

For more information on VAWA 2013, please visit

Updated January 29, 2015