National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault

Tribal Law and PolicyFederal Law


Based on the United States Constitution, the United States Congress has plenary, or complete, authority to pass laws and regulations concerning Indian Country.  Thus, so long as there is a rational basis for the federal government’s law concerning Indian Country, the federal government has the constitutional authority to enact and enforce that law. Through this authority, Congress passed the Major Crimes Act and the General Crimes Act.



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The Major Crimes Act allows for federal prosecution of Indians for the commission of any of the following crimes in Indian Country, when the victim is an Indian:





Aggravated Sexual Abuse or Sexual Abuse (commonly known as "rape" or "sexual assault")


Assault with Intent to Commit Murder

Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

Assault Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury

Assault Against a Person Under Sixteen

Felony Child Abuse or Neglect




Felony Theft


It is important to remember, that federal law does not preclude parallel or concurrent tribal court prosecution for any of the above listed crimes.

The General Crimes Act allows for the federal criminal prosecution of Indians who commit severe crimes against non-Indians in Indian Country and for the federal criminal prosecution of non-Indians who commit serious crimes against Indians in Indian Country.

In addition to the Federal Government’s criminal jurisdiction over Indian Country, many other Federal laws directly affect victims of sexual assault, including federal housing regulations, federal victims’ rights legislation, and some federal consumer statutes.


National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault, a project by the Southwest Center for Law and Policy © 2019

This project was supported by  Grant No. 2011-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessary represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice. All rights reserved. | Privacy policy   Login