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Crime on The Reservation

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The Denver Post begins a series today on the inadequate job the feds are doing with respect to prosecuting crimes on Indian reservations.Since Indian reservations fall under federal jurisdiction, crimes occurring on them are prosecuted by the Justice Department in federal court. Today’s article highlights the number of sex assault and other violent crimes that never make it to prosecution:

Between 1997 and 2006, federal prosecutors rejected nearly two-thirds of the reservation cases brought to them by FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs investigators, more than twice the rejection rate for all federally prosecuted crime. As prosecutors and investigators triage scarce resources or focus on new priorities such as terrorism, hundreds of serious cases of aggravated assault, rape and child sexual abuse occurring on reservations are sent instead through tribal misdemeanor courts.Investigative resources are spread so thin that federal agents are forced to focus only on the highest-priority felonies while letting the investigation of some serious crime languish for years. Long delays in investigations without arrest leave child sexual assault victims vulnerable or suspects free to commit other crimes,

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Two thoughts come to mind: We should be spending more money on programs to reduce crime on the reservations and the conditions which foster them. Reducing the dreadful poverty levels and increasing educational programs would be of greater lasting benefit to the community than throwing more money at cops and prosecutors. Reducing crime should be the goal. Second, the article fails to note that those charged with crimes on reservations need defending in federal court. Most of these defendants are indigent and require the services of federal public defenders. The article discusses increased funding for prosecutors, law enforcement and tribal investigators, but makes no mention of increased funds for defenders. Someone needs to point out that when doling out money to prosecute crime on reservations, it’s also essential to adequately fund the defense — and that includes defense lawyers, investigators and experts. The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel applies equally on Indian Reservations. [cross-posted at TalkLeft.com]

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