Federal Law and Policy

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:

  • Murder

  • Manslaughter

  • Kidnapping

  • Maiming

  • Aggravated Sexual Abuse or Sexual Abuse (commonly known as "rape" or "sexual assault")

  • Incest

  • Assult 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

  • Arson

  • Burglary

  • Robbery

  • Felony Theft

What Does the General Crimes Act do?

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.

Family Justice Center Alliance: Federal Prosecution of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence in Indian Country Video

Leslie A. Hagen, National Indian Country Training Coordinator, addresses specific substantive topics in the area of federal prosecution of sexual assault and domestic violence crimes occurring in Indian Country. Ms. Hagen discusses jurisdictional issues, applicable federal criminal statutes, and best practices for working in a multijurisdictional federal/tribal case. Ms. Hagen is one of the leading authorities in the country on federal prosecution of crimes against women in Indian Country.

Federal Law Documents

Contact NICCSA

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*NICCSA is a project of the Southwest Center for Law and Policy ( 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.