Tribal Law & Order Act

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (“TLOA”) was signed in to law by President Obama on July 29, 2010. TLOA makes some very important changes to the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Indian Country.  At the center of the Act is the recognition of the urgent need for improved inter-jurisdictional collaboration between federal and tribal criminal justice and corrections agencies, increased data collection, and expanded sentencing capabilities for tribal courts.

The TLOA’s primary statutory purposes are to:

  • Clarify the responsibilities of federal, tribal, state, and local authorities with respect to crimes committed in Indian Country.
  • Empower tribal governments with the authority, funding, resources, and information necessary to safely and effectively provide public safety in tribal communities.
  • Reduce the prevalence of violent crime in tribal communities and combat sexual and domestic violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.
  • Reduce the prevalence of violent crime in tribal communities and combat sexual and domestic violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.
  • Prevent drug trafficking and reduce rates of alcohol and drug addiction in Indian Country.
  • Increase and standardize the collection of criminal data and the sharing of criminal history information among federal, state, tribal, and local officials responsible for responding to and investigating crimes in Indian Country.

Under TLOA, all United States Attorneys’ Offices must designate a tribal liaison with statutorily specified duties. These duties include coordinating prosecution between tribes and the federal government, developing multi-disciplinary teams, consulting with tribes about any backlog in prosecutions, and providing technical assistance and training.

TLOA also contains a new mandate that whenever a federal criminal investigation is terminated or a United States Attorneys’ Office declines prosecution, the federal criminal justice professionals “shall coordinate” and share information with tribal criminal justice officials. Annual reports addressing federal declinations of prosecution and terminated federal criminal investigations must also be submitted to Congress annually under this law. Tribes may also utilize Special Assistant United States Attorneys (appointed by the United States Attorneys in consultation with the tribes) to prosecute Indian Country crimes “as necessary to improve the administration of justice.” 

President Barack Obama delivers remarks and signs Tribal Law and Order Act during an East Room ceremony at the White House July 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

TLOA requires the development of a long-term plan to address juvenile and adult corrections issues and statutorily confirms tribal law enforcement officers’ access to federal criminal databases such as NCIC. Tribal courts may request that the Federal Bureau of Prisons house some convicted defendants at no cost to the tribe.  The law also establishes an Indian Law and Order Commission to address criminal justice issues in Indian Country. Perhaps the most significant changes resulting from the Act are the provisions for federal concurrent criminal jurisdiction in Public Law 280 jurisdictions at the request of tribes and the enhanced sentencing capabilities of tribal court judges.  Previously, the maximum sentence allowed in tribal courts under the Indian Civil Rights Act was a sentence of up to one year of incarceration and a $5,000 fine. TLOA now allows for enhanced sentencing of up to 3 years of incarceration and a $15,000 fine provided that the defendant was represented by law trained and barred defense counsel, the tribal court judge in the case is law trained and barred, the proceedings are recorded, and due process is afforded to the defendant at every stage in the proceedings.

Tribal Law and Order Act

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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.