According to legal and policy experts, the recognition of additional tribal authorities will bring more offenders to justice. Elizabeth Reese, a professor of law who helped publish a landmark VAWA report for the National Congress of American Indians, noted in recent testimony that crimes of domestic violence usually don’t happen alone.
“Currently, tribes cannot charge defendants with any of the crimes that happen alongside the domestic violent event that they are actually prosecuting, such as violence against children, drug possession, assault on law enforcement, or just a simple DUI that happens while fleeing the scene,” Reese told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in December.
“Expansion to adjacent crimes would create a more equitable system for prosecutors and defense counsel to navigate,” added Reese, a citizen of the Pueblo of Nambe. “And that is because the vast majority of criminal cases in the United States are resolved, not a trial, but by plea bargaining.”
“One of the most common tools that prosecutors and defense counsel have when negotiating is that there are often multiple charges of criminal conduct,” Reese continued at the hearing on December 8, 2021. “Taking a serious or minor offense off the table allows the two sides to arrive at a result that they can both live with.”
“Without the full power to charge an offender with all of the crimes that they are suspected of committing, both sides are stuck with just that one offense : domestic violence, a charge which is notoriously difficult to prosecute in court because it relies on the cooperation of often highly traumatized and reticent witnesses,” Reese said.