Wyoming’s U.S. Attorney’s Office Continues Long-standing Dedication To Public Safety On The Wind River Reservation
Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Justice released a report to Congress entitled Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions, which was compiled from U.S. Attorney’s Offices and FBI crime data from reservations and which shows a 54 percent increase in Indian Country criminal prosecutions nationwide since Fiscal Year 2009.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming works cooperatively with tribal, federal and sometimes state courts to achieve justice in crimes occurring in Indian Country. In Wyoming, the U.S. Attorney’s Office shares prosecutorial responsibilities in Indian Country with tribal prosecutors. Currently, under the Indian Civil Rights Act, the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court’s authority to sentence a defendant is limited to a term of imprisonment of one year and a fine of $5000 per offense. Because tribal court penalties are limited, the most serious of crimes are prosecuted in federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Justice report shows that numbers for the District of Wyoming are slightly lower for prosecutions (down 14 cases from 2011 to 2012) and slightly higher for declinations (up 2 cases from 2011 to 2012). The most common reasons reported for declining a case usually are that there may be a legal obstacle (such as the crime is beyond the statute of limitations), or insufficient evidence, or that the District has referred the case for prosecution by a different jurisdiction. Wyoming has attributed lower serious crimes in the last several years to the influx of federal resources and officers by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Wind River Reservation in 2010 as part of their “high performance priority goal” designation. Higher numbers of officers resulted in more arrests for petty offenses and a consequent reduction of more serious crime.
In the District of Wyoming, the USAO shares prosecutorial responsibilities with the Tribal prosecutors and the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court. The Tribal courts and prosecutors are indispensable players in providing public safety to our Reservation communities. In Wyoming, federal and tribal prosecutors work cooperatively with one another, and often with state prosecutors as well, to determine which court has jurisdiction over a particular crime and which court system, whether state, tribal or federal, can best achieve justice in the case.
The Wyoming USAO has had an office near the Wind River Reservation dedicated to addressing violent crime on the Reservation for 18 years. U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming Kip Crofts served as the sole federal prosecutor assigned to Indian Country for 7 years, before another attorney was added. When Crofts became the U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming, he put one of his supervisory attorney positions in the Indian Country office, in recognition of the importance of public safety in Indian Country and Indian Country crimes. Over the last ten years, the number of attorneys assigned to Indian Country has been increased from one to four. The U.S. Attorney’s office is an active participant in the Reservation’s Child Protection Team, and meets several times per month with the Tribal prosecutors – all in an effort to improve the level of services to the Reservation population.
The USAO in Wyoming is also focused on helping victims deal with the impact of crime. For years the USAO in Wyoming has hosted an annual victims’ conference, bringing together service providers, victim advocates, law enforcement, judges and other criminal justice professionals for a multi-day information sharing opportunity.
Indian Country law enforcement is shared between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and tribal police, with assistance from state and local officers. Serious crimes are responded to jointly by the FBI and the BIA. The agents decide which agency will take the lead on any particular case. Working as a team allows one agent to respond to the crime scene while the other makes contact with victims and witnesses at the hospital or other location.
The Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions report released earlier this month by the Department of Justice showcases a new era of partnership between the federal government and American Indian tribes. Such collaboration between tribal and federal law enforcement is a longstanding tradition in Wyoming – one to which the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains committed.