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Student Scholarship on TLOA

Excerpt of the law review article: The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 was intended to significantly expand the sentencing powers of tribal courts, raising the maximum sentence for a given offense from one year to three. But the Act requires courts that would take advantage of these new powers to provide significant procedural protections to criminal defendants, while failing to provide the funding most tribal courts would need to make those protections a reality. Moreover, the Act leaves vague and open to interpretation the precise form those protections should take, which is an open invitation to federal courts to scrutinize tribal court procedure; this, in turn, may put tribal courts in the position of choosing between longer sentences and retaining their traditional character. These two obstacles—lack of funding, and the danger to tribal courts’ unique character— mean that the Act is likely to sort tribes into two “tiers”: wealthier or more assimilated tribes will be able to take advantage of the longer sentences, while tribes that cannot afford (whether financially or culturally) to change their practices will be left unable to adequately sentence serious offenders. And because of the way the Act resolves a longstanding ambiguity in Indian law, some tribes in the latter group may be left with less sentencing power than they had previously.

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