Law | National

Fronteras: Hopi Tribe takes advantage of tougher sentencing





Fronteras reports on efforts by the Hopi Tribe to increase the sentencing authority of its courts:
Crime rates in Indian Country are more than twice the national average. But for decades antiquated criminal codes have limited what tribal courts could do.

For example, crimes like child abuse and sexual assault didn’t exist on the books. And, tribal judges couldn’t sentence a defendant to more than a year in jail. But that's changing now. The Hopi Tribe has recently revised its criminal code and as a result is regaining a degree of tribal sovereignty in its court system.

Jill Engel is the Hopi Tribe’s chief prosecutor. A tall blond, she stands out in a roomful of Hopis. She pointed to a recent tribal court case as an example of why things need to change.

A 62-year-old medicine man, working in a remote Hopi village, assaulted and raped a patient last year. The U.S. Attorney in Flagstaff couldn’t take the case, because he didn’t have sufficient evidence to prove force. So the feds sent the case back to tribal court, where the medicine man was sentenced to just three years in prison.

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Hopi Revises Criminal Code, Regains Sovereignty (Fronteras 3/8)