Steve Russell: Indian people can barely afford justice in Arizona

A field on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona. Photo by Cheryl Colan

Can Indian people secure justice in the court system in Arizona? Steve Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, looks at recent legal developments in a state where Native Americans represent 5.3 percent of the population:
There are lots of Indians in Arizona and statistics suggest that many of them can’t afford much justice and have not had great luck in front of non-Indian judges and juries.

Why in the world would a prosecutor want an innocent Indian to have to register as a sex offender? Surely they would not do that just to run up their conviction rates?

I hope not. Whether to assume all prosecutors will always act in good faith is up to Arizona voters or, in this case, the Arizona Supreme Court.

It’s worth notice that few lawyers with substantial criminal law experience are likely to make it to the Supreme Court, state or federal, because civil lawyers dominate the selection process. Therefore, Supreme Court justices are not well fixed to have opinions on what prosecutors will do when tempted to cash a blank check of charging authority.

Assume with me a prosecutor with no bad motives but a lot of cultural bias. A child welfare bureaucrat thinks that an Indian child is being raised by incompetent parents but can’t prove it. The case worker really believes it would be best to remove the child.

Remember how often this scenario played out before the Indian Child Welfare Act? Do you think the case workers who consider Indian parents unfit generally and that Indian children must be removed to white homes just disappeared out of state systems when the feds passed ICWA?

Read More:
Steve Russell: Bogus Charges and Rent on the Courtroom (Indian Country Today 10/9)

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