Noem’s newest legislation closes intrastate tribal lands loophole for outlaws

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) has unveiled the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act of 2018, H.R. 4864, which would give federal law enforcement officials the power to arrest suspected felons and other alleged offenders attempting to hide on tribal lands located within the state they committed the crime.

“Today, we have fugitives hiding in plain sight,” said Rep. Noem, who introduced the bill on Jan. 19 with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). “The way the system is set up, violent criminals can use Indian Country as a haven to evade law enforcement. That policy poses a serious and concerning public safety threat to tribal communities.”

Under current law, if a suspect allegedly commits a crime in South Dakota, for instance, and runs away to hide in another state, federal law enforcement can cross state lines to apprehend the suspect, Noem’s office explained. Similarly, if an alleged criminal in one state flees to an Indian reservation in another state, federal officials are authorized to also travel to that state and arrest the suspect on the reservation.

However, if a suspect flees to an Indian reservation within the same state where the alleged crime took place, federal law enforcement doesn’t have authority to apprehend the suspect on those tribal lands, according to Noem’s office, thereby allowing certain individuals wanted on felony charges to evade arrest.

H.R. 4864 would penalize unlawful flight to avoid prosecution or giving testimony into or from Indian country, according to the text of the bill. Federal law enforcement would be granted authority to search for and take into custody any suspects on tribal lands within a state regardless of jurisdiction to better protect and ensure justice for victims and their families, essentially plugging what Noem called a “dangerous loophole once and for all.”

H.R. 4864 — which was informed by meetings the federal lawmakers held last April with state and local law enforcement officials in South Dakota to discuss local drug crime and policing challenges — has gained some early support.

“Too many victims of crime in Pennington County over the past decades have had to hear that they would not get their day in court because the offender was beyond the reach of even federal law,” said Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo. “By recognizing tribal borders as being the equivalent of state borders, the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act takes a huge step toward ensuring that no one is beyond the law.”

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said the existing jurisdictional barriers make the work of law enforcers harder and allow fugitives to commit more crimes. “The priority should always be on victims of crime and public safety. It is time to hold fugitives accountable and stand up for victims,” Thom said.

Toward that end, Noem’s bill will fix “an unintentional flaw that has contributed to a disparate degree of public safety on and near tribal lands,” said Rapid City Chief of Police Karl Jegeris. “Ultimately, it will create an opportunity for reduced victimization by holding offenders accountable.”

H.R. 4864 has been referred to both the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations and the House Natural Resources Committee for consideration.