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National Survey of Tribal Court Systems (NSTCS)

​​​​​​The legal institutions in Indian country revolve around four main entities: indigenous or traditional courts, general jurisdiction courts, appellate courts, and the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Code of Federal Regulation courts. The National Survey of Tribal Court Systems (NSTCS) is the first complete enumeration of tribal court systems operating in the United States and gathers administrative and operational information from tribal court systems, prosecutors’ offices, and indigent defense providers operating in the United States.

Tribal Courts

The Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 recognized the right of tribes to enact their own laws and establish their own formal tribal courts. Some tribes have developed hybrid or blended judicial systems, incorporating a more formal focus to ensure due process and the dispute resolution elements of indigenous courts or Courts of Indian Offenses—Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, courts operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Formal tribal courts, unlike the CFR courts, are under tribal control and are directly oriented to the needs of tribal members. 

Tribal Crime and Justice

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TLOA; P.L. 111-211, 124 Stat. 2258 § 251(b)) requires BJS to establish and implement a tribal crime data-collection system, and support tribal participation in national records and information systems. The Act specifies data collection and analysis of crimes committed on federally recognized reservations, in tribal communities, and on identified trust lands which in combination are commonly referred to as Indian country.

Pretrial Release

Pretrial release refers to the conditions of release from custody to which defendants must adhere during the time period between the filing of charges by law enforcement and court adjudication. After arrest charges are filed, the courts will decide whether a defendant can be released pending trial and other court proceedings. If a defendant is released pretrial, the courts may issue stipulations on that release that fall along a spectrum of least to most restrictive, often driven by the severity of the charges filed and the defendant’s prior criminal history.

Indigent Defense

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets forth the right to counsel in federal criminal prosecutions. Through a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, the right to counsel has been extended to all criminal prosecutions—state or federal, felony or misdemeanor—that carry a sentence of imprisonment.

Persons under jail supervision but not confined

All persons in community-based programs operated by jail facilities, including electronic monitoring, house arrest, community service, day reporting, and work programs. This group excludes persons on pre-trial release who are not in community‐based programs run by jails; persons under supervision of probation, parole, or other agencies; inmates on weekend programs; and inmates who participate in work‐release programs and return to jail at night.
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The court system plays a critical role in the judicial process, impacting which arrestees are charged with and potentially convicted of a criminal offense. The court system consists broadly of prosecution, pretrial services and detention, defense services, and courts of limited and general jurisdiction, and oversees the adjudication process for juvenile and adult offenders.

Federal Justice System

BJS maintains multiple data collections covering various aspects of the federal justice system encompassing law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections. BJS data collections range from censuses of law enforcement and annual deaths in custody to federal case processing statistical information, describing the number of suspects/defendants from arrest to imprisonment.