Sunday, October 3, 2004
Bills Aim to Clarify Criminal Cases on Tribal Land
SANTA FE Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have introduced a measure to clarify jurisdictional issues on criminal cases within pueblo boundaries.
A series of conflicting court decisions have led to confusion over whether federal, state or tribal law-enforcement officials have jurisdiction on thousands of acres of privately owned lands within the boundaries of Indian pueblos.
U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., wrote the legislation, which was also introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
Recent cases, including a stabbing at Pojoaque Pueblo, a criminal sexual-contact case at Santa Clara Pueblo and an aggravated battery charge at Taos Pueblo, have stalled in court over jurisdiction questions, Udall said.
The measure, which amends the Indian Pueblo Land Act of 1924, pertains to serious criminal acts within exterior boundaries of a pueblo and seeks to clarify whether a crime should be prosecuted in federal, tribal or state court.
``The prospect of having lands where anyone could commit a heinous crime and not be prosecuted for it was untenable and is something that needs fixing,'' Domenici said.
About 70,000 acres within pueblo boundaries in New Mexico were transferred to private owners under the 1924 law. Since then, some of the land has been repurchased by the pueblos.
State and federal courts in New Mexico have issued different opinions over who has jurisdiction over the private lands within pueblos.
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in April called the issue of prosecution-free zones a ``code red'' issue.
``This is the most serious problem in the time that I've been U.S. attorney here,'' Iglesias said. ``It's got to be fixed, and it's got to be fixed quickly.''