Northwest Tribes Begin To Try Reservation Crime Cases Under Tougher Laws

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

A tribal court on the Umatilla Indian Reservation is one of the first to hand-down a long prison term under new tougher criminal sentencing laws enacted by Congress in 2010.

It used to be that tribes could only sentence a Native American criminal to up to one year of jail time — no matter the crime. Typically the U.S. Justice Department was called in for everything else -– but many cases were dropped.

Now, tribal courts have the power to sentence native criminals who commit crimes on a reservation up to three years per count, for up to nine years.

The Umatilla tribal judge near Pendleton, Oregon, handed down the first such sentence last week. A young Native American man from Pendleton was given 27 months for assault.

“I really believe that crime will decrease when people realize they are going to be held accountable at a level that is appropriate for the offence they commit,” says Brent Leonhard, an attorney with the tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Leonhard says a federal pilot program may pick up the costs of jailing the tribal lawbreaker. If not, the tribe would have to pay for the man’s incarceration in federal prison.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from