Based on the United States Constitution, the United States Congress has plenary, or complete, authority to pass laws and regulations concerning Indian Country. Thus, so long as there is a rational basis for the federal government’s law concerning Indian Country, the federal government has the constitutional authority to enact and enforce that law. Through this authority, Congress passed the Major Crimes Act and the General Crimes Act.
It is important to remember, that federal law does not preclude parallel or concurrent tribal court prosecution for any of the above listed crimes.
The Major Crimes Act allows for federal prosecution of Indians for the commission of any of the following crimes in Indian Country, when the victim is an Indian:
Aggravated Sexual Abuse or Sexual Abuse (commonly known as "rape" or "sexual assault")
Assault with Intent to Commit Murder
Assault with a Dangerous Weapon
Assault Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury
Assault Against a Person Under Sixteen
Felony Child Abuse or Neglect
The General Crimes Act allows for the federal criminal prosecution of Indians who commit severe crimes against non-Indians in Indian Country and for the federal criminal prosecution of non-Indians who commit serious crimes against Indians in Indian Country.
In addition to the Federal Government’s criminal jurisdiction over Indian Country, many other Federal laws directly affect victims of sexual assault, including federal housing regulations, federal victims’ rights legislation, and some federal consumer statutes.
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*National Tribal Trial College is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy (www.swclap.org) This project is supported by Grant No. 2017-SA-AX-K001, awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.