Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country Essay

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Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country Tribal nations enjoy a unique legal position in the United States attributable to their sovereign status with built in powers of self-government. They also enjoy a special relationship with the federal government. In turn, this status and relationship has consequences for tribes and their members; for the states and their citizens; and the federal government. This paper will explore the significance of tribal sovereignty, the tribal-federal trust relationship, and their impact on criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country. It will also identify the division of criminal jurisdiction between the tribes, the federal government, and the states, which flows from this unique status and relationship. I will …show more content…
Yet, this authority to regulate commerce with the tribes has been transformed into a plenary power over Indian affairs, almost without limits. Obviously, the federal government must operate within the boundaries of the United States Constitution in its dealings with tribal nations. However, while the federal government uses its plenary power and trust responsibility as a shield for tribes and their sovereignty, through its duty and power it also wields a mighty sword. The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect tribes, yet Congress' power has been interpreted to be great enough to unilaterally abolish treaties or certain treaty rights, and to end the government-to-government relationship with any particular tribe. At its most extreme limits, Congress can legislate who is and is not an Indian tribe. Congress also has the power to increase, decrease, or remove entirely from tribal governments their criminal and civil jurisdiction. Congress also has the power to export into Indian Country federal criminal laws due to its plenary power. The relationship between Congress and Indian tribes is complex. Often the duties and powers of Congress, in relation to the tribes, conflict with each other. When such conflicts arise regarding the