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Margaret Chiara and the Ongoing Problem of Justice on Reservations

Buried in an excellent article on the difficulties Native Americans have getting someone in USA offices to prosecute serious crime is this Margaret Chiara quote:

"I’ve had (assistant U.S. attorneys)look right at me and say, ‘I did not sign up for this,"’ said MargaretChiara, who until March was the U.S. attorney for western Michigan,with jurisdiction over several reservations. "They want to do big drugcases, white-collar crime and conspiracy.

"And I’ll tell you, the vast majority of the judges feel the same way. They will look at these Indian Country cases and say, ‘What is this doing here? I could have stayed in state court if I wanted this stuff,"’ she said.       

"It’s a terrible indifference, which is dangerous because lives are involved."

Of course, both Chiara and Thomas Heffelfinger showed a great deal of commitment to overcoming this indifference, but neither is working for DOJ anymore. For that matter, Paul Charlton did too–particularly in his efforts to require the taping of interviews to directly address an issue raised in the article: the prevalence of cases that cannot be charged because tribal investigators may not meet federal standards of interviewing.

Federal investigators usually take the leadwhen the [sexual assault] victim is 9 or younger, authorities say; tribal investigatorstake the lead with older victims. But federal prosecutors often declinethose cases precisely because the victim has been interviewed too manytimes or by investigators who aren’t specially trained to handle childsexual assault – as few Navajo investigators are.

Read the whole article–it’s really maddening. I do hope Michael Mukasey reads it, as he starts his new job. Because the problems on reservations was one festering issue behind the scandal that brought him to office, and it remains just that–a festering issue.

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Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.