Can Tribal Courts Charge People With Felonies?

Apr 19, 2021

About Tribal Courts and Their Jurisdiction

Tribal courts play a crucial role in the justice system within Native American tribes and are responsible for resolving various legal matters. One question that often arises is whether tribal courts have the authority to charge individuals with felonies. In this article, we will explore the jurisdiction of tribal courts and shed light on their ability to handle felony cases.

Tribal Courts and Sovereignty

To understand the jurisdiction of tribal courts, it is important to recognize the concept of tribal sovereignty. Native American tribes possess inherent powers of self-governance, including the authority to create and enforce laws within their territories. Tribal courts derive their jurisdiction from this sovereignty.

Limits on Tribal Court Jurisdiction

While tribal courts have the authority to handle a wide range of legal matters, there are limitations on their jurisdiction. One crucial limitation is the requirement that the defendant must have a sufficient connection to the tribe. This includes being a tribal member, a non-member residing within the tribe's territory, or a non-member engaging in business or committing crimes within the tribe's jurisdictional boundaries.

The Major Crimes Act and Tribal Jurisdiction

The Major Crimes Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1885, significantly impacts tribal court jurisdiction. Under this act, certain major crimes committed within tribal lands fall under federal jurisdiction. These crimes include murder, manslaughter, felony assault, arson, and various other offenses.

Tribal Courts' Criminal Jurisdiction

Despite the Major Crimes Act, tribal courts still maintain criminal jurisdiction over a wide range of offenses. This includes misdemeanors, civil infractions, and certain felonies. However, it is worth noting that the severity of the crime and the tribal court's sentencing authority might be limited in some cases.

Collaboration with Federal and State Authorities

In situations where a tribal court lacks jurisdiction or resources to handle a particular felony case, collaboration with federal or state authorities becomes essential. This collaboration ensures that serious crimes are properly investigated and prosecuted, and justice is served.

Seeking Legal Advice

If you have questions regarding tribal court jurisdiction or face potential charges in a tribal court, it is crucial to seek expert legal advice. John P. Bennett, Attorney at Law, specializes in tribal law and can provide the guidance and representation you need.


Tribal courts have the authority to charge individuals with felonies within their jurisdiction, although limitations exist based on tribal membership or sufficient connections to the tribe. The Major Crimes Act also affects tribal court jurisdiction by placing certain major crimes under federal control. Collaboration between tribal, federal, and state authorities is vital in ensuring justice is served. For expert legal assistance with tribal court matters, contact John P. Bennett, Attorney at Law.

Taryn Robinson
It's interesting to learn about the jurisdiction of tribal courts in charging individuals with felonies. Tribal courts serve a crucial role in the Native American justice system, and it's important to understand their authority. This article provides insightful information on the topic and sheds light on the abilities of tribal courts. It's great to see discussions around the legal matters within Native American tribes.
Nov 11, 2023