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Public Law 280

Partnering with tribal law enforcement
Sheriff Stan Sniff & Chief Mike Levine

For many years the federal government bore the responsibility of public safety and the enforcement of criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.  States had no authority to police or regulate Indian reservations existing within their boundaries.  The only way a state's criminal laws could be enforced on an Indian reservation was through consent by Congress.  

In 1953 Congress passed Public Law 83-280 mandating six states (California, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, & Alaska) to assume criminal jurisdiction in Indian country. Indian tribes and sheriff's departments throughout the state of California and the country, found themselves in unfamiliar territory with the passage of this law. 

Under the federal mandate of Public Law 83-280 the Riverside County Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement services to the 12 Indian tribes existing within the jurisdictional boundaries of Riverside County.  

  • The Riverside County Sheriff's Department enforces the state's criminal statutes, criminal prohibitory laws, in Indian country with the same force and effect as any other area in the county. 
  • Public Law 83-280 does not allow for enforcement of laws that are deemed to be civil regulatory in nature, which would infringe upon a tribe's inherent right of sovereignty and self-governance.     

The passage of Public Law 83-280 did not diminish a tribe's ability or right to pass and enforce their own laws on their tribal lands.  Concurrent jurisdiction exists between the federal, state and tribal governments. Consideration must be given to what crime has been committed and if the offender is Indian or non-Indian, when determining exclusive or concurrent jurisdictions for prosecution purposes.

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