The Champion

April 2012 , Page 20 

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The right to counsel does not apply in Indian tribal courts (Letter to the Editor)

By Tova Indritz

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Kudos to Norman Reimer for his fine article — After Half a Century, Gideon’s Promise Remains Elusive — in the January/February 2012 issue. He makes many good points about the importance of the Gideon decision, and the ways in which it is not being fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel (Gideon v. Wainwright and Argersinger v. Hamlin) does not apply in Indian tribal courts. That is because the Constitution does not apply in Indian Country, except to the extent that Congress mandates that it does, such as in the Indian Civil Rights Act.

In tribal courts Native Americans face incarceration up to one year, with only the right to counsel at the defendant’s own expense. And the vast majority of defendants in tribal court are indigent. The Ninth Circuit recently ruled in a case in which NACDL filed an amicus brief that this means one year per count, so a single criminal act can violate multiple statutes and result in sentences stacked for several years of

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