Tribal partnership combats domestic violence with federal grant

The Federal Court House in Durango, Colo.
courtesy SU Legal

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Legal Department has been awarded $450,000 from the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and the Bureaus of Justice Assistance (BJA) for the Tribal Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA) Initiative. The allocated money will allow the department to have a cross-designated tribal prosecutor and federal prosecutor to take cases in tribal court and federal court – as permitted by the grant and U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO). The grant is for a 3 year-period, during which time Lisa Franceware will be fulfilling this designated (SAUSA) position with the Legal Department and local USAO in Durango. 

The Tribal SAUSA Initiative is still relatively new, it was only offered to five tribes, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe was one of the five tribes selected to receive this grant. This Initiative marks a tremendous step toward building relationships with pertinent law enforcement agencies and the District of Colorado, United States Attorney’s Office, in furtherance of community safety.  We are grateful to have been considered by the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, and the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys, for this opportunity,” Franceware expressed. “Receiving this grant feels like we are receiving additional tools and resources to protect victims of crime within the Reservation. 

The tribe has not received funding for a SAUSA position before, this is a special initiative from the OVW and BJA. It is one way in which the USAO and the tribal government may hire and retain a SAUSA position. Under the Tribal Law and Order Act, the USAO is encouraged to appoint a SAUSA position, and it may, under their Judiciary and Judicial Procedure Code, appoint a qualified tribal prosecutor to assist in prosecuting federal offenses committed in Indian Country. 25 U.S.C. § 2810(d) & 28 U.S.C. § 543(a). Because of this, the initiative is viewed as furthering the government-to-government relationship. It will be an investment that helps empower tribal sovereignty and strengthen the criminal justice response on the reservation.  

The goal of this Initiative is to further provide USAOs and tribal governments with additional resources to address crime in Indian Country, where the crime rate exceeds the national average or the rate at which cases are declined exceeds the national average declination rate (25 USC 2810). This can be achieved by cross designating a tribal prosecutor as a federal prosecutor. Our goal for this Initiative is to provide the Southern Ute Indian Tribe with the resources necessary to do justice safely and effectively in the community,” Francware detailed. These resources will include immense investigation and prosecution training to improve the department’s response, not only at a tribal level, but also at the federal level. Additionally, the Tribal SAUSA may prosecute cases in tribal court, federal court, or both. This will hold offenders more accountable and possibly maintain a lower-than-average declination rate.  

Because this Initiative is funded through the Office of Violence Against Women in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Tribal SAUSA position will focus on domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, violations of protection orders and offenses against children and youth.  

After this 3-year grant period, the Southern Ute Tribe’s Legal Department plans to continue building its relationship with federal partners. It is expected that there will be increased coordination and communication during this time, and the hope is that this working relationship will continue going forward.  

Through on-going coordination and government-to-government communication, the ultimate goal is to enhance the department’s response to community safety concerns. We want to be pro-active in our response to community safety and be able to work as a team,” Franceware stated. This will include multiple law enforcement agencies, victim services, child and elderly protective services, and prosecution. 

Regarding the prosecution, certain types of cases must be prosecuted federally, either because the offender is non-native or federally imposed sentencing limitations at the tribal level may not serve the best interest of justice.  These types of cases may be referred to the local USAO, who will then determine whether to accept or decline a case. The SAUSA will seek to address these types of cases and add manpower to the local USAO to take cases that may be important to the TribeThe hope is that taking these cases can further improve victim and public safety on the Reservation,” Franceware shared. This is a means of addressing crime on the Reservation, filling the gap between tribal and federal jurisdiction.   

Not only will this initiative further bridge the gap between tribal jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction over non-natives (who commit crimes within the exterior boundaries of the reservation) it will help keep accountability. Depending on who has jurisdiction, such non-native offenders may be prosecuted in federal or state court. The SAUSA program allows the tribe to prosecute these non-native offenders, who commit federal crimes on the Reservation, in federal court on behalf of the United States and as permitted under the grant.   

“Many tribes suffer high crime rates, while the federal prosecution rate for crimes committed on reservations is discouragingly low. We want to change that at Southern Ute. Having our Tribal Prosecutor designated as a Special Assistant US Attorney creates a direct link between the Tribe and our local US Attorney’s office, where federal prosecution decisions are made. We expect that having the Tribe’s voice represented in the US Attorney’s office will benefit victims of crime, our community, our law enforcement, and our Tribe, stated Southern Ute Tribal Chairman, Melvin Baker.

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