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Trial Advocacy Training for Tribal Court Judges, Prosecutors, and Defenders
November 22, 2013 Posted by

Since 2011, the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) has partnered with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Tribal Services to host a series of tribal court trainings known as the Tribal Court Trial Advocacy Training Program. This free, three-day trial advocacy course is designed to improve the trial skills of judges, public defenders, and prosecutors who appear in tribal courts. All trainings are staffed by experienced tribal prosecutors, defenders, judges, Assistant United States Attorneys who practice in Indian Country, and Assistant Federal Public Defenders.

The program seeks to strengthen tribal courts in furtherance of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the authority that the statute recognizes for tribal courts to exercise jurisdiction over serious criminal cases including felonies that potentially carry lengthy prison sentences. To implement this enhanced sentencing authority, tribal courts must provide substantive and procedural safeguards, including lawyers for indigent defendants who face incarceration for more than one year and law-trained judges to preside over the cases. These same safeguards are incorporated into the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013′s voluntary special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. By providing trainings for defenders, prosecutors, and judges, the program aims to strengthen the skills of those who appear in tribal courts so that tribes can exercise greater sovereignty in criminal justice matters that occur on their lands.

The first training in the series was held in August 2011 in Rapid City, S.D. In a unique and effective teaching strategy, trainings included combined sessions for defenders and prosecutors as well as breakout sessions that allowed each side to further develop trial skills. Participants gave overwhelmingly positive feedback at the end of their training and voiced support for the concept of combined trainings.

Since that time, additional trainings have been held in Phoenix, Ariz.; Duluth, Minn.; Ignacio, Co.; Great Falls, Mont.; Chinle, Navajo Nation (Ariz.); Seattle, Wash; Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Missoula, Mont.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; and Philadelphia, Miss.

Based on the success of these trainings, additional trainings have been scheduled in the next two months:

  • December 2-5, 2013 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • January 27-31, 2014 in Albuquerque, N.M.

These trainings are catered to the needs of the communities in which they are offered. For example, in Grand Forks, N.D., in June 2013, attendees met with the federal justice leaders in the state about the importance of strong independent tribal courts to ensure public safety in Indian County. Participants heard from Chief Justice Ralph Erickson of the U.S. District Court Judge for the District of North Dakota; Tim Purdon, U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota; and Neil Fulton, Federal Defender for the Districts of South and North Dakota.

Chief Justice Erickson cautioned that for tribal courts to be effective, “the principles of independence and due process have to be at center stage.”

And he also encouraged tribal courts to draw from their community’s traditions and cultures:

“Tribes can and should incorporate Indian cultural traditions as peacemaker courts and talking circles, and those features should be respected by people outside the tribes.”

US Attorney Purdon similarly noted that tribal courts “don’t have to be the mirror image of a state or federal court and that Standing Rock system of handling cases in a peacemaker manner amongst disputing parties is a model that can be replicated.”

Additional trainings in 2014 are being planned, which will be posted here. All trainings are free with CLE credit available and open to judges, public defenders, and prosecutors who appear in tribal courts. For more information about these trainings and how to register, please visit

Understanding the Impact of Children’s Exposure to Violence in American Indian/Alaska Native Communities
November 14, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason

Yesterday, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the first public hearing of a new task force to examine the impact of violence on children in Indian country. Speaking to leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes, the Attorney General explained that this task force originated with the findings of his Defending Childhood Initiative, which sought ways to reduce children’s exposure to violence.

As Attorney General Holder stated:   

We must not accept the shameful reality that American Indians and Alaska Natives are disproportionately likely to be exposed to crime and violence – and that many who suffer exposure are children. By bringing together federal officials, tribal leaders, and local partners to focus on the unique challenges that Indian children face, this task force will enhance public safety.  And these leaders will strengthen our communities by ensuring that every child can have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to thrive – free from violence and fear.

One of the Defending Childhood task force’s key findings in its December 2012 final report was that American Indian and Alaska Native children experience “extreme levels of violence.”  As one tribal leader put it, “For us…the question is not who has been exposed to violence, it’s who hasn’t been exposed to violence.”  Geographic isolation, jurisdictional complexities, a scarcity of resources, and a host of other challenges demand that we focus special attention on the problems facing American Indian and Alaska Native youth and those who serve them.

The new Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by both a federal working group and an advisory committee of experts.  The advisory committee will hold its first hearing in Bismarck, N.D., on December 9th and will hold three additional hearings and several listening sessions in 2014 to develop a clear understanding of the scope and impact of children’s exposure to violence in tribal communities and to recommend ways to address it.

The advisory committee will be co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah, who have long demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing violence in Indian country.  They will be aided by tribal members and national experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma and child welfare and law—the best and brightest in their field.  Serving without compensation, they will produce a report that will receive the highest level of attention from the Department and the Administration with the goal of developing strategies to protect American Indian and Alaska Native kids from exposure to violence for years to come.

As the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, I am confident that the task force will be successful in guiding our efforts to reduce violence and develop culturally relevant interventions. When I served as the Deputy Associate Attorney General earlier in the Administration, I had the good fortune to lead the team that developed our Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS, a hugely successful instrument that streamlined the grant process for tribes and made all Justice Department funding more accessible to tribal applicants. The simplified process also released the creativity of tribes to fashion programs for their members that tap into strengths that are rooted in their culture and customs.  And tribes are doing some truly remarkable things, from traditional healing services for crime victims, to youth programs that bring together elders and young people, to intertribal information sharing partnerships, among other efforts. 

The advisory committee will submit  a report by late 2014, recommending ways, both innovative and traditional, that policymakers, legislators, practitioners, and researchers at all levels can work to reduce the rates at which native children encounter violence and to intervene effectively in the lives of these young people.

The good news is that there are programs and practices out there that can reverse the damage caused by exposure to violence.  It is a matter of determining the nature and the extent of the problem and tailoring those promising approaches to the unique challenges in Indian country, guided by the rich heritage of native communities’ long-standing tribal practices.

I believe that by working together, nation to nation, we can meaningfully help prevent American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence. 

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

Liberty, Opportunity and Equality for All: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act Vote
November 8, 2013 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels

“The fact remains that, across the country, far too many LGBT Americans suffer discrimination each and every day.  That’s why the Department will keep working to promote opportunity and access for every individual.  It’s why this will continue to be a priority for this Department as long as I have the privilege to serve as Attorney General.  It’s why we will continue to advocate for essential legislative changes and reforms, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to extend workplace protections to all Americans.”

-Attorney General Eric Holder, June 2013

Right now, in 29 states, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) Americans lack sufficient protections against employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  This week, the Senate passed a bill—the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—that would close this gap in our nation’s civil rights laws.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Yet five decades later, while we wait for ENDA to pass the House of Representatives, no federal law exists that explicitly prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and the majority of states lack basic workplace protections for LGBT Americans.

As President Obama has stated: “[O]ur journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

If signed into law, a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  ENDA’s prohibition of intentional discrimination makes clear that LGBT Americans deserve the same types of protections that are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ability to earn a living and climb up the economic ladder is at the heart of the American dream.  No individual should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions and pay raises because of who they are or who they love.  That’s why President Obama, Attorney General Holder, the Civil Rights Division, and the administration as a whole have been committed to the passage of an inclusive ENDA.

In 2009, Tom Perez, then Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the department before the Senate HELP Committee in support of this legislation, stating: “We have come too far in our struggle for ‘equal justice under the law’ to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities.”

The Civil Rights Division regularly receives letters from LGBT individuals all over the country documenting instances of employment discrimination.  This discrimination takes many forms—from cruel instances of harassment, to explicit denials of employment or career-enhancing assignments.  It is painfully disappointing to have to tell these men and women that, in the United States of America in 2013, insufficient legal tools exist to address this discrimination.  While the Division makes every effort to address these complaints, because there are no federal laws that provide explicit protection against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, far too many people are left without clear protections.

Four years ago, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to protect LGBT individuals from hate-fueled violence.  Now it’s time for Congress to make certain that these Americans enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace and equal access to the American dream.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Division seeks to advance this nation’s long struggle to embrace the principle so eloquently captured by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—that persons should be judged based on the content of their character, and not on their race, color, sex, national origin, religion or any other irrelevant factors.

Our existing civil rights laws, enforced by the Civil Rights Division, reflect and uphold this noble principle.  So does the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  Its passage would move this great nation one step closer to fulfilling our Constitution’s promise of liberty, opportunity and equality for all.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Two Months Until First Deadline – Tax Division Encourages Banks to Participate in the Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks and Publishes Comments on the Program
November 5, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of the Tax Division

On Aug. 29, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole and Ambassador Manuel Sager of Switzerland signed a joint statement announcing the program for non-prosecution agreements or non-target letters for Swiss banks (the program). For eligible Swiss banks that want to seek non-prosecution agreements to resolve past cross-border criminal tax violations, the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline to enter the program is now less than two months away.

At its core, the program provides a framework that permits a Swiss bank to provide the cooperation to resolve potential criminal matters with the Department of Justice. The Swiss Federal Department of Finance has released a model order and guidance note that will allow Swiss banks to cooperate with the Department of Justice and fulfill the requirements of the program.

The Tax Division has committed that it will not authorize formal criminal investigations of any additional Swiss banks prior to the Dec. 31, 2013, deadline. Under the program, each cooperating bank will be required to provide information about interbank transactions involving undeclared U.S. accounts. A bank that wants to come forward to cooperate can do so before the deadline with the assurance that information received from others has not made its cooperation untimely. Any bank that does not come forward before the deadline faces the very real risk that information provided by others may cause the bank to be targeted and prosecuted.

The Tax Division has received a number of inquiries about the program, and today it has published comments to its website to address a number of common topics. The department continues to encourage Swiss banks to consider the program.

In addition to requiring cooperating banks to provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed, banks that receive non-prosecution agreements will also be required to provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest, cooperate in treaty requests for account information, agree to close accounts of account holders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations, and to pay substantial penalties commensurate with their culpability.

Through these disclosures, the program should significantly assist in the department’s ongoing investigations and prosecutions of U.S. taxpayers who have evaded U.S. tax and reporting obligations, and who have failed to avail themselves of the Internal Revenue Service’s voluntary disclosure programs. The program does not apply to individuals, who must resolve any criminal liability separately. Banks that are already under criminal investigation have been notified that they are expressly excluded. The division is committed to investigating offshore tax evasion around the globe.

Training Law Enforcement to Respond to Active Shooters
October 31, 2013 Posted by

Tragic events such as the September 2013 mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and last year’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have continued to increase the demand for training that shows law enforcement how to best respond to active shooter situations. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the FBI have partnered with Texas State University to expedite and increase the delivery of this critical training to state and local law enforcement throughout our country.

At the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, officers receive critical active shooter response training to effectively and safely respond to an active shooter event. The ALERRT curriculum is dynamic force-on-force, scenario-based training. It has been adopted by the FBI as the national training standard for active shooter response, and has been provided to more than 40,000 police officers nationwide.

As Attorney General Eric Holder commented in his remarks earlier this month to the International Association of Chiefs of Police:

“The reality is that police don’t always have the luxury of time to get their most highly-trained, best-equipped officers on the scene. To save lives, the first officers to arrive must sometimes be the ones to directly engage an active shooter. That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations. We owe these officers nothing less.”

The training and support provided at the ALERRT Center is a critical component of the VALOR initiative, a response to the increase in assaults and violence against law enforcement. ALERRT training is designed to help prevent violence against law enforcement and ensure officer resilience and survivability. Watch this video to see what people are saying about ALERRT training and the difference it’s making in preparing our first responders for tomorrow’s challenges.

Strengthening Our Efforts: Recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October 30, 2013 Posted by

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason

When President Obama proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness month on September 30, he noted the progress made since the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  He singled out the fact that domestic violence is no longer hidden behind the closed doors of the home, but has been brought into the national arena as a matter of grave social concern. “We have changed our laws, transformed our culture, and improved support services for survivors,” he said, yet we must “resolve to carry on until domestic violence is no more.”

With this year’s passage of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013), Attorney General Eric Holder stated: “This reauthorization includes crucial new provisions to improve our ability to bring hope and healing to the victims of these crimes, expand access to justice, and strengthen the prosecutorial and enforcement tools available to hold perpetrators accountable.”

The VAWA reauthorization gives better resources to law enforcement to investigate rapes, incentives to colleges to educate students about dating violence, and authority to tribal courts to prosecute anyone – tribal member or not – who commits domestic violence on tribal lands.  VAWA 2013 also adds provisions to aid immigrant and LGBT victims of domestic violence.  More relief for victims comes in the Affordable Care Act, which requires new health plans to cover domestic violence screening and counseling with no copayments or cost sharing.

But despite this progress, one in four women and one in seven men in the United States still suffer serious physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner at least once during their lifetimes. Every day, three women lose their lives in this country as a result of domestic violence.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological. It includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender and affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Throughout this month and the year ahead we are reminded that each of us has a role to play in recognizing and responding to these crimes.

I am proud to say that the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has long provided services and research to assist practitioners, law enforcement and victims.

For example, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1998 to cosponsor the groundbreaking National Violence Against Women Survey , which revealed that violence is more widespread and detrimental to women’s and men’s health than had been previously thought.  NIJ also released a summary of domestic violence research for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on the crime’s perpetrators and victims, as well as the implications of that research for practitioners and policymakers. As part of Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative, in 2010 OJP began to award grants to help communities develop comprehensive, multidisciplinary plans to improve their prevention, intervention and response systems for children exposed to violence in the home and in their communities. 

Our Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) gives priority to domestic violence in its administration of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), requiring states and territories to allocate a minimum of 10 percent of their VOCA assistance funds to serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. This makes VOCA funds a primary source of federal support for the thousands of domestic violence programs and shelters in the country. OVC also provides discretionary funds to reach special populations of underserved victims of domestic violence, such as victims living abroad and victims with disabilities.

Some of the most effective work being done in OJP on ending the scourge of domestic violence is in testing theories and practices to find out what really works.  OJP’s “crime” website, administered by NIJ, presents research on the effectiveness of programs and practices and assigns them easily understandable ratings – Effective, Promising or No Effects – so practitioners can study them and determine whether a program that works in one setting can be replicated in another. currently shows ratings for 28 programs aimed at stemming domestic violence.  Of these, eight receive the highest rating, “effective,” while 17 are viewed as “promising.”

OJP encourages everyone to use and share our resources, available throughout the year at Learn even more by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or by visiting  OJP works closely with the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which provides additional resources to address domestic violence: The more we know about this once-taboo subject, the more power we will have to end it. As President Obama said, “let us honor National Domestic Violence Awareness Month by promoting peace in our own families, homes, and communities. Let us renew our commitment to end domestic violence – in every city, every town, and every corner of America.”

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice

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