Dominique Alan Fenton: Tribal citizens go without lawyers in court
The new Oglala Sioux Tribe Justice Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo courtesy Beasley Management

Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation who are accused of crimes often go without attorneys in the court system of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Dominique Alan Fenton, a youth and family court judge for the tribe, calls for more resources to protect the most needy in Indian Country:
The Justice Center for the People is a short walk north from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation’s southern border with Nebraska. The imposing complex, which was finished last year, stands in stark contrast to the wind-swept prairie that surrounds it. The building and the laws enforced here are designed to blend American and Lakota judicial customs.

Oglala Sioux Tribal Court is where descendants of Crazy Horse’s Oglala band of the Lakota come for justice.

But in criminal cases in this South Dakota reservation, located in one of the poorest counties in America, people must pay for their own defense. It is nearly impossible to say what percentage of criminal defendants here receive no legal assistance, since these records are not digitized. But an afternoon at arraignments will give you a pretty clear idea: most.

Native Americans who live on more than 300 federal reservations are afforded rights outlined in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, but the scope of indigent representation is left for tribes to determine. When funding is limited, as is often the case on reservations nationwide, public defense regularly gets cut.

Get the Story:
Dominique Alan Fenton: Poor on a Native American Reservation? Good Luck Getting a Lawyer. (The Marshall Project 6/13)

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