Contrasting The First 18 Implementing Tribes on Victim’s Rights

Although VAWA 2013 focuses heavily on the rights of defendants in tribal courts, it does not require implementing tribes to do anything specific to support victims. Many tribes have, however, chosen to actively promote victims’ rights and safety. As highlighted in the profiles of the implementing tribes, almost all of them have robust programs that support domestic violence victims. In addition to programmatic support, many tribes have comprehensive codes that account for victims’ rights and safety. Some tribes who did not previously have victim centered provisions in their codes, took the opportunity when re-writing their codes to enact victims’ rights provisions to comply with VAWA 2013. Here is a brief overview of how some of the tribes chose to legislate victims’ rights. Since some tribes had extensive victims’ rights provisions, the list below includes illustrative examples from each tribe rather than an exhaustive list of the victims’ rights defined by each code.

The Pascua Yaqui, CTUIR, and Tulalip have comprehensive codes that account for victims’ rights and promote victims’ safety. The CTUIR Court issues automatic protection orders in all pending criminal domestic violence cases. The Tulalip and Fort Peck Tribes have instituted a domestic violence docket to handle all cases involving domestic violence, dating violence, or violation of protection orders. This domestic violence docket is separate from the existing criminal docket and allows the court to have an increased focus on victim safety and offender accountability. Tulalip’s victims’ rights code also is rooted in the unique context of Tulalip culture and includes that law enforcement officers must help victims get back “essential personal effects” which includes “regalia or any cultural or ceremonial items.”

EBCI police are specifically mandated to respond to domestic violence calls immediately, make arrests without unnecessary delay, and report the incident to EBCI’s Domestic Violence Program within 48 hours. Tribal prosecutors are also encouraged to consult domestic violence victim advocates and to expedite prosecutions with “a minimum of continuances.” Victims are given the right to provide the court with a victim-impact statement, to address the court during sentencing, and to ask the court to order restitution for damage to or loss of property through the defendant’s actions.

At Sisseton, law enforcement arriving on the scene are required to use “all reasonable means to protect the victim and others present from further violence.” They are also required to confiscate weapons, help the victim get medical treatment, and provide the victim with a notice of all of her rights and “the remedies and services available to victims of domestic violence” The statement of victim’s rights is detailed in the tribal code and not only includes how law enforcement can help, but a detailed list of 10 different protection orders that the victim could file a petition for and where to obtain the necessary forms.

Little Traverse police must assist victims in retrieving belongings, obtaining medical treatment, and moving to a safe location, such as a shelter. They are also responsible for providing information to the victim about his or her rights and any services available to victims. Prosecutors must “maintain contact with the victim throughout the criminal proceedings,” update the victim about major decisions in the case, provide the victim an opportunity to present an impact statement to the court, and allow the victim to seek restitution for property damage.

Nottawaseppi guarantees victims the right to reasonable protection from the accused, the right to notice of any judicial proceedings dealing with the domestic violence case, the right to confer with the prosecutor, the right to restitution, and the right to provide the court with a victim’s impact statement. NHBP police officers are required to protect victims from abuse, transport victims to a domestic violence shelter, assist victims in obtaining needed medical care, and provide victims with written notice of their rights.

In addition to a dedicated Victim’s Rights section of their code, Chitimacha’s code contains two sections specifying duties to victims. The first section, “Duties of the Tribe to the Victim” requires that prosecutors keep parts of the victim’s background from entering into the case, “respectfully” dissuade victims from withdrawing charges, keep continuances to a minimum, track victim’s financial costs, and utilize victim advocates during every phase of the proceedings. The second section requires law enforcement to ensure victim safety by, among other things, helping the victim obtain medical treatment, removing personal effects, advising the victim of services, and helping them obtain temporary protection orders. The tribal code also has clear provisions which protect victim safety through privacy. Alleged perpetrators may not obtain any records of police contact alleging incidents of domestic violence without first going through a hearing with notice to the prosecutor. Even if the Chitimacha Tribal Court eventually orders disclosure, information identifying the victim may be redacted to protect the confidentiality of their identity. Victims may also receive status reports on their offender’s case.

Seminole Nation guarantees to domestic violence victims the right to judicial orders protecting him or her from further abuse. Seminole Nation law enforcement, the Lighthorse Police, is directed to inform victims of these legal rights. They are also directed to protect the victim from further immediate abuse, transport the victim and any children to a shelter, and assist the victim in obtaining medical care. The Seminole Nation’s Attorney General has a policy to cooperate with victims’ advocates as well.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s law enforcement, also known as the Lighthorse Police, are directed by statute to protect domestic violence victims from immediate harm, assist them in obtaining any needed medical care, and transport them to a shelter, if needed. Lighthorse Police are required to give victims written notice of their rights to protective orders and instructions on how to file for such orders. The MCN District Court evaluating the arrest of a domestic violence offender is required to consider the safety of the victim when deciding whether to keep the offender in pretrial detention, and consider imposing protective orders for the victim’s safety before releasing the offender.

The first power or duty discussed in the Law Enforcement portion of Lower Elwha’s code is law enforcement’s duty to use all reasonable means to protect a domestic violence victim or any other household members when they are responding to a domestic violence call. The duty to protect includes, among other things, transporting the victim to safety, collecting their belongings, and confiscating prohibited weapons from the alleged abuser. Lower Elwha police are required to provide every victim with a paragraph statement of their rights, which is provided for in the code. Lower Elwha’s code also contains a victims’ rights section, which includes the right to privacy, the right to dignity, the right to be heard, and the right to notice concerning the accused’s case.

Sac and Fox law provides a comprehensive scheme to ensure that domestic violence victims have access to protective orders. The tribe is also required to maintain access to shelters and “other such services as are needed” for domestic violence and sexual abuse victims. Sac and Fox police and prosecutors are also required to inform victims of the above described rights and services, as well as others detailed in its Domestic Abuse Act.

Kickapoo has an extensive and comprehensive Domestic Violence Protection Ordinance that protects victims’ rights. The first police officer to respond to a domestic violence incident is responsible for informing the victim of his or her rights, including the right to file for protective orders and the right to be informed about social services and financial assistance. The Ordinance designates Kickapoo Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services as the agency to provide services, including shelters, to domestic violence victims. The Ordinance also creates an extensive protection order system.

At Standing Rock, victims of domestic violence are guaranteed a number of rights related to criminal proceedings against the offender, including the right to be heard by the court during plea and sentencing proceedings and the right to restitution for “loss or injury” caused by a convicted offender. 

The Choctaw Nation has a comprehensive Victim’s Rights Act. The Act is codified into twelve separate subsections which provide for a wide range of protections for all crime victims, some of the more uncommon of which include the right to support from your employer and the right to be informed of certain witnesses who may be called to testify. Additionally, the first peace officer who interviews a domestic abuse victim is required to inform them of their rights, including the right to request protection arising out of cooperation with law enforcement, the right to be informed of support services and how to apply, and the right to file for a permanent or temporary protective order.    

Finally, Sault Ste. Marie dedicated an entire chapter of their code to Victim’s Rights. The fifteen pages that outline these rights include: the right to employment protection, the right to a separate waiting area outside the courtroom, the right to confer with the prosecutor concerning jury selection, and an extensive section outlining the many kinds of restitution that the victim may be eligible for.

For more detailed Tribal Code references, please see the full SDVCJ Five Year Report Victims' Rights & Saftey section on pages 70-76. Learn more about the SDVCJ Implementing Tribes here.