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Wash. may help tribal authorities enforce warrants under proposed bill

by By Renee Diaz, Columbia Basin Herald
| February 24, 2024 3:21 PM

OLYMPIA — A new bill preventing individuals from escaping justice for crimes committed on tribal lands by fleeing into Washington state jurisdiction has passed the Senate with a vote of 45-4. 

“This bill closes a jurisdictional gap allowing crimes to be committed on Indian reservations and then flight off-reservation where no legal process exists for state arrest and return of fugitives to the tribes,” said Judge Ron Whitener, retired Chief Judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court and a Squaxin Island Tribal member. “It also provides due process protections for fugitives by only allowing arrest and return to tribal custody if the tribe meets Constitutional requirements of the federal Tribal Law and Order Act.”

If passed, Senate Bill 6146 will authorize Washington state law enforcement officers to enforce warrants issued by the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington. The bill further allows officers to transport individuals to tribal lands for prosecution, simplifying the process of addressing criminal activities in cooperation with tribal authorities. 

“This law will keep our communities safer while protecting the constitutional rights of people accused of crimes,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and prime sponsor of the bill. “It is crucial that, when law enforcement officers have a new duty to undertake, they are given clear and consistent statutory guidance, and that’s what this legislation does.” 

The proposed legislation will establish a formalized process for state law enforcement officers and places of detention to handle tribal warrants and deliver fugitives to the requesting Indian tribes. 

For certified tribes the bill guarantees that law enforcement officers treat tribal arrest warrants the same recognition as Washington State arrest warrants, requiring full faith and credit. It stipulates that upon arresting an individual based on a tribal warrant, officers must promptly communicate with the tribal law enforcement agency, enabling the placement of holds on inmates with tribal arrest warrants in state detention facilities. 

Non-certified tribes, the bill established a procedure for state law enforcement officers and places of detention to deliver tribal fugitives to the relevant tribal authority. This involves notifying the tribe when housing a tribal fugitive and allowing the tribe to demand the fugitive’s return through a formal process. The proposed legislation outlines the legal proceedings for surrendering the fugitive to the tribe and sets conditions for release if the tribe takes and sets conditions for release if the tribe. 

Currently, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs stand neutral on this bill and is working with the sponsor to create solid guidelines for tribal enforcement.  

“We support what this bill seeks to do and accomplish, but we have grave concerns on how it seeks to accomplish them,” said Jamie Weirmer, Projects and Programs Manager of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. 

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, voted in favor of the bill during the Senate floor debate Feb. 12. 

“This legislation expands cooperation and improves the relationship with tribes when it comes to public safety and it’s long overdue,” said Warnick. “The state will be able to work with tribal partners to enforce warrants they’ve issued just like tribes have done for state-issued warrants. We have been faced with an untenable situation where crimes could be committed on tribal land without fear of arrest after leaving. That puts all of us at risk, particularly when trying to hold criminals accountable in cases of domestic abuse or human trafficking.”