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The constitution, the comprehensive legal code, and the many governmental related services of the Cherokee Nation contribute to a justice system that operates autonomously to promote order and advancement within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.
Though the Cherokee Nation is a sovereign entity with a complete legal system, they also work with the cooperation of federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to maintain order. They also have agreements with local and state governments to help insure consistency and support within both the Cherokee Nation and local governments. Indeed, there has been an ongoing policy of the US government to help insure that Cherokee law and Federal laws have a measure of conformity (Distinctive Features). However, the recent limits placed on the State Police on Indian lands has prompted the Cherokee Nation to take a greater responsibility for law enforcement within their borders and has necessitated the formation of the Cherokee Nation Marshall Service.
In 1986, a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "[...] Oklahoma law enforcement officers have no criminal jurisdiction "in Indian country" unless the crime is committed by a non-Indian against another non-Indian ..." (Heck, Keen, and Wilds, 26). The previous two centuries had been marked by federal reluctance to recognize sovereignty compounded by a checkerboard of overlapping federal jurisdiction. The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service is responsible for enforcement on Indian land, and though they have been in existence for over 20 years, their ranks are thin as compared to other urban and rural forces. The 2002 census reported only 11 full time officers to cover the entire population and vast land area ("Census", 10).
The Cherokee Nation also shares criminal jurisdiction with various state and federal authorities through cross deputizing (Heck et al., 33). Jurisdiction is decided through a complex evaluation of whether the defendant and victim are Indian or Non-Indian and the seriousness of the crime. According to Heck et al. while, "[...] either federal or Indian law enforcement officers can make arrests for major crimes, most major crime cases are tried in federal courts" (33). However, victimless crime or minor crime where both defendant and victim are Indian, is the sole jurisdiction of the tribal courts. There may be rare exceptions to this, such as the jurisdiction for the enforcement of traffic laws where major routes are patrolled by a state police agency.
The District Court of the Cherokee Nation serves all 14 counties in the jurisdiction of the tribe and handles civil and criminal proceedings. In addition, they handle some limited juvenile cases and family law issues involving deprivation and neglect ("District Court"). According to the 2002 census, the Cherokee Nation criminal court can only prosecute a case that would result in a jail term of not more than one year and a fine of less than 5,000 dollars ("Census", 2). More serious cases are sent to the federal court system for prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration. The Cherokee Nation operates a detention and holding center for short-term ...Show more


The Cherokee people were one of the first Native Tribes to acquire a written language and as such they have also been progressive in their approach towards government and the system of justice. Since the early 19th century, the Cherokee have had a constitution, Supreme Court, and a system of government based on European ideas…
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Cherokee Indian Nation
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