Pilot Project to Implement VAWA 2013 Launches

President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA 2013) into law on March 7, 2013, marking an historic day for Native women in the United States. VAWA 2013 recognizes the inherent authority of tribal governments to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction (SDVCJ) over certain defendants, regardless of Indian or non-Indian status, who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country.

This SDVCJ for tribal governments is not generally available until March 7, 2015.  Tribes can, however, assume accelerated jurisdiction by opting into the VAWA 2013 Pilot Project.  Procedures for the Pilot Project have been proposed by the Department of Justice and recently published in the Federal Register on June 14, 2013.  Comments on the proposed procedures are due September 12, 2013 and can be emailed to OTJ@usdoj.gov.  By participating in the Pilot Project, a tribe can start prosecuting non-Indian abusers sooner than March 7, 2015 if the tribe’s criminal justice system fully protects defendants’ rights under federal law, the tribe asks to participate in the new Pilot Project, and the Department of Justice grants the tribe’s request and sets a starting date for assumption of restored jurisdiction.  The first phase of the Pilot Project, summer and fall of 2013, will be planning and assessment, and the second phase, fall 2013 through March 7, 2015, will focus on early implementation of VAWA 2013 by those tribes participating in the Pilot Project.

The Pilot Project includes a collaborative working group of tribal leaders and the Department of Justice.  Named the Intertribal Technical Assistance Working Group on Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction, the group is intended to develop and share best practices for combating domestic violence and for implementing the required criminal procedures of VAWA2013.On June 24, 2013, the Center participated in the first meeting of the Intertribal Technical Assistance Working Group on Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction.  The meeting enabled participants to engage in useful discussion with the Department of Justice and other interested tribes and tribal officials concerning the Pilot Project.  In deciding to assume greater criminal jurisdiction within their lands, tribes may want to carefully consider a number of factors, including but not limited to new requirements for tribal codes and procedures, funding, and possible costs and risks associated with litigation.  Tribes wishing to participate in the Pilot  should submit a preliminary expression of interest by July 15, 2013 to Mr. Tracy Toulou, Director, Office of Tribal Justice, Department of Justice, at OTJ@usdoj.gov.