Attorney General Publishes Opinion on Tribal Protection Orders
July 30, 2015
(Anchorage, AK) – Attorney General Craig Richards published a formal Attorney General Opinion today regarding whether state and local law enforcement can enforce a tribal protection order that has not been registered with the court system. The opinion had been requested by Commissioner Folger, Department of Public Safety in order to provide clarity to the State Troopers in carrying out their duties.
This Opinion concludes that a tribal protection order does not need to be registered with the court system before a State trooper or other officer can enforce it. The protection order will be immediately enforceable if it meets the criteria outlined in the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
“This Opinion provides clear direction to officers on the ground as well as the victims they seek to protect,” said Attorney General Richards. “There should now be no doubt that these protection orders must be enforced.”
The confusion over the status of tribal protection orders arose because of a conflict between federal and state law. State law requires that protection orders issued by other jurisdictions must be registered with the Alaska Court System before officers can enforce them. This would include tribal protection orders. On the other hand, VAWA clearly provides that states cannot require registration before enforcement and directs the State to enforce orders from other jurisdictions, in this case tribes, as though they were issued by an Alaska court.
The Attorney General’s Office determined in the Opinion that federal law preempts in this case. This means that local and state law enforcement can, and in fact must, enforce tribal protection orders just as if those orders were issued by the State, so long as the criteria under VAWA are met. This means that the court issuing the order must have jurisdiction and provided due process. Also, the purpose of the order must be for “the protection of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking,” or the prevention of violent or threatening acts against another person.
Although the Department of Public Safety errs on the side of protecting the victim regardless of whether the protection order has been registered, this Opinion clarifies for all law enforcement that tribal protection orders should not be treated any differently than orders from the State’s courts. Officers may arrest offenders who violate tribal protection orders in the same way they would arrest offenders of state protection orders.
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