Criminal Justice

Reservation Law: Separate & Unequal?

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A system of justice that puts the federal courts in charge of adjudicating crimes that occur on Indian reservations can treat Native Americans much more harshly than others accused of comparable offenses elsewhere.

“Indian tribes once had control over the dispensation of justice on reservations. But federal laws – some passed a century apart – have whittled away that authority, and, critics say, helped create a legal system that’s often separate and unequal,” writes the Wall Street Journal in a page one article today.

It for-instances the case of Bobbi Jo Wing, 27, and her husband, both of whom are now serving life sentences without the possibility of parole after being convicted of a 2005 arson at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in which her 15-year-old cousin died. The couple say they didn’t realize the teen was asleep inside the home.

Despite this tragic result, the arson, if prosecuted locally in Montana, probably would have been charged as a deliberate homicide, the article says. A conviction can result in a sentence as low as 10 years in prison, with the chance of parole after 2½ years.

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