There are currently 22 federally recognized Native American tribes in Arizona. The largest is the Navajo Nation, with a population of about 172,800. Native tribes have their own tribal police. These are law enforcement officers hired by the tribe. In general, tribal police only have jurisdiction over crimes committed within their reservations. In the past, they lacked the jurisdiction to arrest, charge and prosecute non-Natives. However, this changed with a Supreme Court decision in 2021.
When motor vehicle drivers pass through tribal lands or Indian reservations in Arizona, they may encounter the tribal police. Tribal police officers have the legal authority to exercise criminal jurisdiction over all Natives or members of the tribe. They have a broad range of responsibilities, including investigating crimes, enforcing traffic laws and executing arrest warrants. Their jurisdiction over non-Natives, however, is less clear.
According to Arizona Revised Statutes Criminal Code Section 13-3874, “while engaged in the conduct of his employment, any Indian police officer who was appointed as a law enforcement officer by an Indian tribe shall possess and exercise all law enforcement powers of peace officers within the state.” In other words, tribal police officers in Arizona have the same power and authority as non-tribal law enforcement agents. Their jurisdiction, however, can be confusing.
Historically, tribal police officers did not have the authority to detain suspects who were non-Natives. This rule was created by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1978 decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe. Tribal police could only arrest, charge or detain DUI suspects who were Native Americans.
However, in United States v. Cooley, the Supreme Court held that “a tribal police officer has the authority to temporarily detain and search non-Native persons traveling on public rights-of-way through a reservation for potential violations of state or federal law.” This means that as of 2021, tribal police officers can lawfully detain a DUI suspect in Arizona whether or not the individual is a Native.
Yet there are still issues and loopholes in the tribal police system. While tribal officers now have the authority to investigate and detain non-Natives suspected of committing crimes, they must then contact state or federal officers to make an arrest or pursue charges against the individual. If the other law enforcement office is too busy to respond to the call, the tribal police may have no choice but to release the non-Native.
In addition, there is some confusion regarding state police jurisdiction to make an arrest on tribal land. State and local law enforcement typically do not have the right to arrest Natives on tribal land. In many cases, these officers may decline to enter tribal land at all. This can make it difficult for tribal law enforcement officers to make a DUI arrest involving non-Natives.
If you get pulled over for an alleged DUI by a tribal police officer in Arizona, remain calm and be polite. Take the following steps to protect your rights:
Your lawyer can investigate the arrest to determine if the tribal police officer had probable cause to pull you over and the jurisdiction to detain you. Then, your lawyer will create the strongest possible defense strategy against DUI charges on your behalf.