Indian Country Justice System Broken: Denver Post


Federal prosecutors decline to pursue 65 percent of potential criminal cases from Indian reservations, reports the Denver Post. Already some of the most violent and impoverished places in the U.S., facing a steep rise in meth-fueled crime, reservations are plagued by a systematic breakdown in the delivery of justice, a six-month investigation by Post found. U.S. attorneys and FBI investigators face major challenges fighting crime on reservations. They are viewed as outsiders who shouldn’t be trusted; locations are remote; high levels of alcohol use among victims, suspects, and witnesses make many serious crimes very difficult to prove. Said James McDevitt, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, “We’re not in the business of taking cases we’re going to lose.”

Insiders say the system is badly dysfunctional, burdened by competing federal priorities such as immigration and terrorism and undermined by institutional resistance to using the high-powered federal judicial machine to prosecute run-of-the-mill violent crime. “I’ve had (assistant U.S. attorneys) look right at me and say, ‘I did not sign up for this,”‘ said Margaret Chiara, former U.S. attorney for western Michigan. “They want to do big drug cases, white-collar crime and conspiracy.” A review by the Post of dozens of criminal cases on more than 20 reservations substantiates concerns among American Indians that the system functions poorly, including investigations that are chronically delayed or dropped, and serious crimes never prosecuted as felonies. On a Montana reservation, a man assaulted his girlfriend and broke her jaw, a result that didn’t count as “serious bodily injury,” said a U.S. attorney who declined the case. “It has been too easy for everybody to fall into role-playing on the federal part of it,” said Philip Deloria of the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque. “The FBI doesn’t care. The U.S. attorneys are unfeeling. And so the Indians pay the price.”


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