Changes to VAWA didn't change Alaska's stance on tribal court orders

We want to clear up confusion about protection orders issued by tribal courts in Alaska. The truth is the State of Alaska has recognized and enforced tribal court protection orders since at least 2008, as required by the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The recent amendments to the VAWA did not change this. The "Alaska exception" to the 2013 VAWA amendments provides that Alaska tribes have the same jurisdiction now that they had before the amendments.

Because the State fully recognized and enforced tribal protection orders before the amendments, it continues to fully recognize and enforce tribal protection orders now. The Alaska exception neither expanded nor retracted the existing authority of tribal courts or the State, including tribal courts' authority to issue protection orders to be enforced by the State.

It has always been the State's position that an individual's safety comes first. Presented with a tribal protection order, the trooper first ascertains whether a person is in imminent danger. If the person is in imminent danger, the trooper will take necessary steps to protect the person. This could be arresting for a violation of the tribal order or it could be arresting the perpetrator for a violation of another state crime.

Even in those cases where a state law enforcement officer is unable to enforce a protection order by making an arrest because they do not have probable cause, the trooper should provide protection through alternatives like transporting the victim to a shelter, helping the victim contact supportive family members, or assisting with having the order filed in state court.

Furthermore, the troopers have gone above and beyond the requirements of VAWA governing full faith and credit. The troopers will attempt to deliver valid tribal protection orders to the defendants on behalf of the petitioners (victims).

Over the past six years, at least 48 tribal court orders have been filed with the State court and formally recognized by the State. We know there are other tribal protection orders that were never formally filed with the State, and that is the individual choice of the petitioner (victim).

However, there are benefits to filing the tribal court order with the State, including that the order will be entered into the central registry for protective orders. This can provide greater safety and ease of enforcement as a petitioner (victim) moves about the state -- often without a copy of the order in his or her possession.

In addition to protection orders, the VAWA amendments authorized tribal jurisdiction over special domestic violence crimes. But as defined by the VAWA amendments, special domestic violence crimes occur only in Indian country. Therefore, this section has only limited application in Alaska because, aside from Metlakatla's Annette Island Reserve, Alaska does not have Indian country. The 2013 Alaska exception simply stated what was already true -- statutes based on the existence of Indian country do not apply in Alaska, aside from Metlakatla.

Of course there is always more to do, and so we appreciate the spotlight turning to rural Alaska's difficult public safety issues. Governor Parnell has long focused on these issues and has made ending the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska a personal priority. He included funding for 15 additional village public safety officers in every proposed budget since becoming governor and prompted us to pursue agreements with tribal courts to act on a host of domestic violence and alcohol-related matters.

The bottom line is that the State of Alaska has given and will continue to give full faith and credit to tribal court protection orders. We welcome additional ideas on ways to make Alaska safer for all. We look forward to collaboration among tribes, the State, the federal government, Native corporations and others to solve these issues.

Michael C. Geraghty is the attorney general for the state of Alaska, and Gary Folger is commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

By Michael C. Geraghty and Gary Folger,