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Tribal Domestic Violence Courts and Tribal Domestic Violence Dockets

Tribal Domestic Violence Courts are specialized courts with targeted caseloads consisting of domestic violence cases. Tribal domestic violence courts are comprised of personnel who are well trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and committed to working collaboratively among various victim service providers/systems to meet the needs of the family. Additionally, these courts focus on victim safety and batterer accountability by closely monitoring batterer compliance with court orders.

Possible Benefits of a Tribal Domestic Violence Court

  • Informed judicial decision-making on issues involving the family while incorporating tribal customs and traditions as appropriate.
  • The judge is trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and the complex criminal and/or civil jurisdictional laws in Indian country.
  • Consistency by having a single presiding judge trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and tribal law.
  • Court judge/staff trained on domestic violence issues.
  • Victim safety through the use of a tribal victim advocate, courtroom safety protocols and utilizing the important role of communication with other courts
  • Multi-disciplinary linkage to service providers to address the needs of family members in a manner appropriate for each tribal community
  • Improved collaboration among service providers in a manner appropriate for each tribal community.
  • Improved community response to domestic violence by linking a family court with criminal justice personnel, tribal domestic violence advocates and other service providers
  • Batterer accountability by ensuring ongoing monitoring of compliance
  • Early identification of the domestic violence and safety issues, early access to victim services including integration of tribal custom/traditions regarding healthy, safe families
  • Non-rotating personnel who are well trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and working collaboratively to meet the needs of the family
  • Stronger working relationships between systems such as law enforcement, victim advocates, child welfare and other service providers serving tribal families experiencing domestic violence.

Tribal Domestic Violence Dockets are characterized by setting aside specific days of the tribal court's docket to address cases involving domestic violence. Devoting certain days of the docket to domestic violence cases can provide continuity for the victim, and allow the tribal court to address related civil and criminal matters on the same day. It can also allow the court to offer enhanced security, advocacy services, and child care for domestic violence victims.

Possible Benefits of a Tribal Domestic Violence Docket

While there are no uniform models for domestic violence dockets, the following principles are usually included:

  • Victim and child safety;
  • Offender accountability;
  • Information sharing and decision-making;
  • Coordination of procedures and services;
  • Training and education for court personnel;
  • Judicial leadership-which includes ongoing training regarding danger and dynamics in domestic violence cases.
  • Addresses victim safety issues by implementing additional security measures such as protocols, that focus on victim safety and courtroom safety measures for all personnel.
  • Addresses related civil and criminal matters on the same day, which provides some continuity to the victim and allows the judge to observe and address perpetrator behavior and compliance in all related cases.
  • Allows the court to require other victim service providers to attend the docket.

Research demonstrates that both domestic violence courts and domestic violence dockets can increase victim safety, reduce recidivism, and improve offender compliance with post-conviction supervision requirements.

These specialized tribal domestic violence courts and tribal domestic violence dockets may serve as a platform for exercising enhanced tribal court sentencing authority pursuant to the Tribal Law and Order Act and Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ) over non-Indians committing certain domestic violence-related crimes in Indian country pursuant to section 904 of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Exercising Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction may lead to safer tribal communities since 67% of American Indian/Alaska Native victims of rape or sexual assault describe the offender as non-Native. The race of the offender is critical since federal case law restricts a tribe’s sovereignty to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators unless the tribe has implemented SDVCJ under section 904 of VAWA 2013.

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) provides training and technical assistance to enhance the capacity of tribal communities to establish dedicated tribal domestic dockets or courts, under a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women. Our goals are to: provide training and technical assistance and resources to assist the development of tribal domestic violence courts or dockets; create a resource guide (forthcoming) for tribes interested in developing a domestic violence court or docket; and to hold webinars (to be announced on this site) and develop resources that will promote the implementation of tribal domestic violence courts or dockets. TLPI’s project partners are:

Domestic Violence Courts/Dockets Resources

Tribal Domestic Violence Court Fact Sheet discusses various tribal domestic violence court models; benefits of establishing a tribal domestic violence court; why a tribal community should consider establishing a tribal domestic violence court and how a tribal domestic violence court can benefit a tribe exercising the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 regarding special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. (2017)

Tribal Domestic Violence Dockets Fact Sheet discusses positive outcomes from having domestic violence cases on a specific docket/day; why tribal domestic violence dockets are needed; benefits of establishing a tribal domestic violence docket; why a tribal community should consider establishing a tribal domestic violence docket and how a tribal domestic violence docket can benefit a tribe exercising the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 regarding special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. (2017)

Tribal Domestic Violence Court-Docket Fact Sheet discusses the differences between Tribal Domestic Violence Courts and Tribal Domestic Violence Dockets. (2015)

CTAS Funding and Domestic Violence Courts for Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Webinar Recording - The Tribal Law and Policy Institute, National Congress American Indians, and National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges hosted a webinar for tribes considering exercising the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction under VAWA 2013. One way to meet the equal protection requirements under VAWA 2013 is to establish a Domestic Violence Court/Docket. Under the Fiscal Year 2015 CTAS RFP purpose area #5 tribes (who did not currently have a CTAS grant from OVW) could apply for funding to support a Domestic Violence Court/Docket.

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and TLPI hosted a webinar for tribes considering exercising the Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction under VAWA 2013. One way to meet the equal protection requirements is to establish a Domestic Violence Court/Docket. Under the FY 2016 CTAS RFP purpose area #5 tribes (who do not currently have a CTAS grant from OVW) can apply for funding to support a Domestic Violence Court/Docket.

“Combatting Domestic Violence in Indian Country: Are Specialized Domestic Violence Courts part of the Solution?” Kathryn Ford, Center for Court Innovation (2015). Domestic violence is one of the most pressing problems facing Native American and Alaska Native communities. Although the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act recognizes the authority of tribes to prosecute non-Native offenders, more tools are needed. This paper explores whether specialized domestic violence courts, which focus on enhancing victim safety and promoting offender accountability, can be part of a multi-faceted approach for tribal justice systems to address domestic violence.

“Creating A Domestic Violence Court: Guidelines and Best Practices” Emily Sack, JD (2002) Family Violence Prevention Fund. These Guidelines are designed to assist jurisdictions considering whether to develop a domestic violence court or dedicated docket, to determine if such a court structure would be helpful, and if so, how best to model this structure to address the needs of their local communities. The Guidelines represent the views of a National Advisory Committee comprised of leading representatives from the various disciplines involved in the processing of domestic violence cases throughout the system.

“Key Principles of Domestic Violence Court: Accountability” Center for Court Innovation.

The U.S. Department of JusticeOffice of Justice ProgramsNational Institute of Justice hosts a webpage devoted to domestic violence courts. Learn more about:

This Department of Justice webpage includes “A National Portrait of Domestic Violence Courts” Melissa Labriola, Sarah Bradley, Chris O’Sullivan, Michael Rempel and Samantha Moore (2009). With funding from the National Institute of Justice, this study explores how criminal domestic violence courts have evolved, their rationale, and how their operations vary across the U.S. This study does not test whether domestic violence courts reduce recidivism, protect victims, or achieve other specific effects – although we provide a thorough literature review on these points. Rather, our aim is to present a comprehensive national portrait of the field as it exists today, laying the groundwork for future information exchange and research.

“Domestic Violence Docket: Process and Recidivism Report” State of Maine Judicial Branch, (2015). This study of domestic violence dockets was conducted by Hornby Zeller Associates, Inc., with data collection occurring in 2014 and report writing in 2015 under contract to the State of Maine Judicial Branch. It includes a review of the literature on the effectiveness of domestic violence dockets, Batterer Intervention Programs, and the presence of national standards to guide the conduct of domestic violence dockets; an assessment of current practices within Maine’s seven active dockets; and an analysis of recidivism among those adjudicated in the past in Maine.

“Procedural Fairness, Swift and Certain Sanctions: Integrating the Domestic Violence Docket,” National Center for State Courts (2013). What might happen if a court system integrated into one docket, before one judge, related criminal, family, and protective order cases of domestic violence; institutionalized principles of procedural fairness; consistently applied swift and certain sanctions for offenders; front-loaded needed rehabilitative services; and tried to do it on the cheap? The results are in. The Vermont Center for Justice Research (2011) evaluated just such an innovative, three-year (2007-10) integrated domestic violence docket (IDVD) court program in Bennington, Vermont. Their report demonstrated that the IDVD program substantially decreased criminal recidivism when measured against statewide data of similar offenders in the traditional justice system. A new process evaluation from the Vermont Center for Justice Research (2013) has identified the critical components for the program’s success.

Note: Professor Sarah Deer, a noted American Indian expert on sexual assault, underscored that peacemaking in the context of rape may: make the victim feel coerced to participate in the traditional practice, may dismiss legitimate fears the victim has, may eclipse batterer accountability, may have no repercussions for recidivism and may have no fact-finding mechanism. For these reasons, using Peacemaking in the context of domestic violence may compromise victim safety especially in the context of American Indian/Alaska Native cultural settings. (The Beginning and End of Rape, Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, Sarah Deer, Univ. of Minn. Press 2015 at pages 125-134.) 

Related Resources

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Congress of American Indians hosted a series of three webinars regarding tribal protection orders. The webinars can also be found here on the TLPI hosted Tribal Protection Order website.

TLPI Publications

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) is pleased to offer the following publications addressing law and policy issues closely related to violence against Native women. These are only a few of the publications available, please visit our homepage for more publications.

  • Guide for Drafting or Revising Tribal Laws Against Domestic Violence includes examples from a variety of tribal codes designed to offer suggestions on how tribal laws can be drafted in a way that provides safety and support for the survivors of domestic violence.
  • Implementing TLOA and VAWA resource provides guidance for Native nations interested in implementing enhanced sentencing under the Tribal Law and Order Act and/or the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction under the 2013 Violence Against Women Act.
  • Tribal Domestic Violence Case Law was developed to help tribal court officials learn about other Nation nations’ approach to certain legal issues in domestic violence cases.

Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known by the victim, often referred to as acquaintance rape. A portion of those acquaintance assaults are committed by intimate partners, dating partners, and sometimes spouses. These instances of sexual assault/domestic violence are discussed in a TLPI developed resource:

Guide for Drafting or Revising Victim-Centered Tribal Laws Against Sexual Assault and Stalking is designed to assist Native nations interested in developing or revising victim-centered laws on sexual assault and stalking. This resource includes sample language and exercise questions designed to guide discussion on what laws will best reflect tribal values. Originally published in 2008, this resource was revised and updated to reflect innovations in tribal law and new federal requirements. (2017)

Tribal Protection Order Resources is a website developed by TLPI is intended to serve as an online resource pertaining to drafting and enforcing tribal protection orders.

Tribal Sex Trafficking Resources provides comprehensive information on sex trafficking as it impacts Native people and Native nations; including, publication resources, victim service directories, and training calendars. Be sure to visit our blog, Sex Trafficking in Indian Country Update, which contains the latest media, news articles, and policy updates on sex trafficking in Indian Country. 

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute homepage houses our publications and links to our various websites including a page devoted to domestic violence resources.

The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC) is a Native nonprofit organization that was created specifically to serve as the National Indian Resource Center (NIRC) Addressing Domestic Violence and Safety for Indian Women. Under this grant project and in compliance with statutory requirements, the NIWRC will seek to enhance the capacity of American Indian and Alaska Native (Native) tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations to respond to domestic violence.

The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center(NIWRC) and The Hotline have launched the first, national crisis line dedicated to serving tribal communities affected by violence across the U.S., called the StrongHearts Native Helpline. All services available through the helpline are confidential and available by dialing 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.

American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence mission is to increase access to justice for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by mobilizing the legal profession.(image will be hyperlinked to the website)

Events

Please visit our Home Page for our Trainings and Events Calendar.

Training and Technical Assistance

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) provides training and technical assistance to enhance the capacity of tribal communities to establish dedicated tribal domestic dockets or courts, under a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women. Please contact Chia Halpern Beetso at chia@tlpi.org or (323) 793-5748.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction Intertribal Technical Assistance Working Group (ITWG)is a voluntary working group of tribal representatives who exchange views, information, and advice about how tribes may best exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction (SDVCJ) and combat domestic violence. If you are interested in joining the ITWG please do so here.


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