Charges in ‘Indian country’ on the rise
Federal prosecutors in Oklahoma filed more criminal cases in “Indian country” in 2017 compared to the prior year, according to a national report released Wednesday.
In 2017, U.S. attorneys in the three judicial districts in Oklahoma filed charges in 80 of 130 Indian country matters referred by the FBI, according to a U.S. Justice Department report.
Overall, the number of Indian country federal prosecutions in Oklahoma increased about 31 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Nationwide, the number of Indian country federal prosecutions declined from 1,763 in 2016 to 1,499 in 2017.
The majority of criminal offenses committed, investigated and prosecuted in tribal communities are adjudicated in tribal justice systems, according to the Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions Report.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores, in a statement, said the report reflects that the many coordinated efforts among United States attorneys and tribal justice officials are making a difference.
“In August, the Attorney General’s Native American Issues Subcommittee met and renewed our commitment to finding meaningful and practical tools to help put an end to the disproportionate rates of violence afflicting Native Americans,” Shores said.
The department is expanding the use of crossdeputization agreements, access to criminal databases, funding for juvenile programs serving at-risk native youth and services to victims and their families, said Shores, chairman of the subcommittee.
Federal law gives U.S. attorneys jurisdiction to prosecute cases involving murder, manslaughter, sexual abuse, aggravated assault and child sexual abuse when committed by American Indians on tribal land.
In 2017, federal prosecutors in Oklahoma declined 50 matters involving Indian country. Most of those cases were declined due to a lack of evidence or another jurisdiction picking up the case, according to the report.
In 2017, most of the cases declined involved the category of physical assaults or sexual assaults, sexual exploitation, or failure to register as a sex offender, according to the report.
“While the relatively high declination rate is troubling, it is also not entirely unexpected given the challenges inherent in prosecuting these types of crimes — challenges that are not unique to the federal system,” according to the report.