skip to content
Back to top

VAWA 2013 and Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indian Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

March 26, 2013


Congress recently passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,or “VAWA2013.” This new law includes significant provisions addressing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence.  These tribal provisions were proposed by the Justice Department in 2011.

WHAT WILL TRIBES BE ABLE TO DO UNDER THE NEW LAW? Tribes will be able to exercise their sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence both Indians and non-Indians who assault  Indian spouses or dating partners or violate a protection order  in Indian country.  VAWA 2013 also clarifies tribes’ sovereign power to issue and enforce civil protection orders against Indians and non-Indians.

WHEN DOES THIS NEW LAW TAKE EFFECT? Although tribes can issue and enforce civil protection orders now, generally tribes cannot criminally prosecute non-Indian abusers until at least  March 7,2015.

WILL THIS BE VOLUNTARY? Yes  tribes will be free to participate, or not.The authority of U.S. Attorneys (and state / local prosecutors, where they have jurisdiction) to prosecute crimes in Indian country remains unchanged.


Covered offenses will be determined by tribal law.  But tribes’criminal jurisdiction over non- Indians will be limited to the following, as defined in VAWA 2013:

  • Domestic violence;
  • Dating violence; and
  • Criminal violations of protection orders.


The following crimes will generally not be covered:

  • Crimes committed outsideof Indian country;
  • Crimes between two non-Indians;
  • Crimes between two strangers, including sexual assaults;
  • Crimes committed by aperson who lacks sufficient ties to the tribe, such as living or working on its reservation; and
  • Child abuse or elder abuse that does not involve the violation of a protection order.

WHAT IS THE PILOT PROJECT? A tribe can start prosecuting non-Indian abusers sooner than March 7,2015, if—

  • The tribe’scriminal justicesy stem fully protects defendants’ rights under Federal law;
  • The tribe asks to participate in the new Pilot Project; and
  • The Justice Department grants the tribe’s request and sets a starting date.



  • Protect the rights of defendants under the Indian Civil Rights Act of1 968, which largely tracks the Federal Constitution’s Bill of Rights, including the right to due process.
  • Protect therightsof defendantsdescribed in theTribalLawand Order Actof2010,by providing—

  o  Effective assistance of counsel for defendants;

  o  Free, appointed, licensed attorneys for indigent defendants;

  o  Law-trained tribal judges who are also licensed to practice law;

  o  Publicly available tribal criminal aws and rules;and

  o  Recorded criminal proceedings.

  • Include Indians and non-Indians in jury pools.
  • Inform defendants ordered detained by a tribal court of their right to file Federal habeas corpus petitions.

IS THERE NEW FUNDING FOR THE TRIBES? In VAWA 2013,Congress authorized up to $25 million total for tribal grants in fiscal years 2014 to 2018, but Congress has not yet appropriated any of those funds. However, tribes may continue to apply for funding through DOJ’s Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), which can support VAWA implementation. Additional funding sources may be available through other Federal agencies.

HOW CAN WE LEARN MORE? Please contact the Justice Department’s Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ) at 202-514-8812 or Office on Violence against Women (OVW) at 202-307-6026,or visit



This site contains links to other web sites that may be of interest to you. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) / Children's Bureau (CB) does not endorse the views expressed or the facts presented on these sites. Their contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views or policies of the Children's Bureau. Access to this information does not in any way constitute an endorsement by the Department of Health and Human Services. Furthermore, ACF/CB does not endorse any commercial products.