, Muskogee, OK

March 10, 2013

Cherokees aim to boost criminal penalties

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— The Cherokee Nation’s tribal council will vote Monday to impose stiffer penalties on crimes it prosecutes in tribal courts.

The proposed legislation would bring criminal penalties up to the standard set in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, said Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree.

“We want to make our laws in accordance with the U.S. courts,” Hembree said. “Penalties were increased under the Tribal Law and Order Act, and this is more housekeeping than anything else. We will be doing the same process with the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) later on this year.”

Hembree said the proposed legislation passed out of committee 17-0, so he’s confident the proposal will pass during the council meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Monday.

The new punishments increase what were maximum of one-year sentences to up to three years in prison.

The court can impose a penalty upon conviction for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000 for first offenses.

An expansion of those penalties means the tribe can impose a sentence of up to three years and/or up to a $15,000 fine, but only if:

• The charge against the defendant is identical or comparable to one of which the defendant has been convicted earlier.

• The defendant is being prosecuted for an offense that would be punishable by more than one year in prison if prosecuted in federal or state courts.

Specifically, Monday’s proposed legislation will increase a number of fines and sentences.

For example, any person convicted of domestic abuse, assault and battery, will receive up to 190 days imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $3,500. For second and subsequent offenses, the punishment will not exceed three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

The penalty for second and subsequent convictions of domestic strangulation would be at least three years in prison and/or a fine of $15,000.

The proposed legislation also adds a penalty of one to three years and/or up to a $2,500 fine for a third conviction of physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence.

It also adds a stiffer penalty for second or subsequent convictions of possession of an imitation controlled substance.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or