Tribes now free to choose whether to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence crimes

American Indian tribes now have the authority to prosecute non-Indians for a limited set of domestic violence crimes.

The federal government extended the authority Saturday to all tribes that meet certain guidelines. Three tribes in Arizona, Oregon and Washington state have exercised the expanded power for more than a year under a pilot project.

Before the move, tribes were able to levy only fines against non-Indians for civil infractions on reservations. The federal government prosecutes major crimes when the suspect, victim, or both are American Indian.

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 allowed tribes to charge non-Indians who are married to or in partnerships with tribal members in domestic violence cases.

Critics say the tribes' increased authority is sure to be challenged in federal courts.