Pascua Yaqui Tribe set to prosecute first non-Indian under VAWA

News coverage includes an overview of the challenges Tribes have faced when non-Indian men batter Indian women on the reservation, a little about the battle to get the VAWA provisions passed, and information about the prosecutor, judge, and public defender who will be involved with this first case. Full article here.

Press Release from Pascua Yaqui regarding the VAWA pilot program here.

From the article:

Tribal police chief Michael Valenzuela drove through darkened desert streets, turned into a Circle K convenience store and pointed to the spot beyond the reservation line where his officers used to take the non-Indian men who battered Indian women.

“We would literally drive them to the end of the reservation and tell them to beat it,” Valenzuela said. “And hope they didn’t come back that night. They almost always did.”

About three weeks ago, at 2:45 a.m., the tribal police were called to the reservation home of an Indian woman who was allegedly being assaulted in front of her two children. They said her 36-year-old non-
Indian husband, Eloy Figueroa Lopez, had pushed her down on the couch and was violently choking her with both hands.

This time, the Yaqui police were armed with a new law that allows Indian tribes, which have their own justice system, to prosecute non-Indians. Instead of driving Lopez to the Circle K and telling him to leave the reservation, they arrested him.

Inside a sand-colored tribal courthouse set here amid the saguaro-dotted land of the Pascua Yaqui people, the law backed by the Obama administration and passed by Congress last year is facing its first critical test. . . .

Some members of Congress had fought hard to derail the legislation, arguing that non-Indian men would be unfairly convicted without due process by sovereign nations whose unsophisticated tribal courts were not equal to the American criminal justice system.

“They thought that tribal courts wouldn’t give the non-Indians a fair shake,” said Pascua Yaqui Attorney General Amanda Lomayesva. “Congressmen all were asking, how are non-Indians going to be tried by a group of Indian jurors?”

Against that opposition last year, the Obama administration was able to push through only the narrowest version of a law to prosecute non-Indians. While it covers domestic and dating-violence cases involving Native Americans on the reservation, the law does not give tribes jurisdiction to prosecute child abuse or crimes, including sexual assault, that are committed by non-Indians who are “strangers” to their victims. In addition, the law does not extend to Native American women in Alaska.

“It was a compromise the tribes had to make,” Lomayesva said. “It only partially fixes the problem.”

Still, what will play out over the next months on the Pascua Yaqui reservation is being watched closely by the Justice Department and by all of Indian country. The tribe’s officials are facing intense scrutiny and thorny legal challenges as they prepare for their first prosecution of a non-Indian man.

“Everyone’s feeling pressure about these cases,” said Pascua Yaqui Chief Prosecutor Alfred Urbina. “They’re the first cases. No one wants to screw anything up.”

2 thoughts on “Pascua Yaqui Tribe set to prosecute first non-Indian under VAWA

  1. Lisa Inwood April 20, 2014 / 5:47 am

    I honestly have to say that if this new law works I will have to give kudos to the president for helping push it though. I do however think it should never have been needed. If a crime done on a reservation then the tribes laws should apply. It would be no different then if an American broke the law in Canada or France, Germany. Native Reservations are supposed to be independent of the majority government and to have self rule and law. That is in the Constitution not that anyone every really follows or maintains treaties but its there. If non indians do not want to be tried in native courts don’t live on the rez and for damned sure don’t break the law there. Personally I think there will be a far fairer hearing on the rez then a native person would receive off rez.

  2. Anoah January 16, 2015 / 2:12 am

    If a non-Indian comes onto Indian governed land and homes, then that person subjects themselves to the laws of that land; the same as if s/he were in another country. And when an Indian is on non-Indian land, s/he must obey the laws of that land while there. We are subject to the law of the land upon which we stand, not from whence we come.

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