SHIPROCK — Tribal officials are proposing more severe sentencing for criminals on the Navajo Nation.
The tribe’s Law and Order Committee this week is holding public hearings regarding changes that could be made to Title 17, the tribe’s criminal code that deals with sentencing on the Navajo Nation. A public hearing will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Shiprock chapter house.
The changes could include steeper penalties for a variety of crimes, including the possession of alcohol one of the most common offenses on the Navajo Nation.
The committee is reviewing the code because in January 2000 the tribe eliminated or lessened jail terms and fines for nearly 30 offenses. The tribe had limited resources to penalize offenders, according to the committee.
Now, the committee is proposing more sentences that include paying fines and going to jail, though it also is proposing less common types of sentencing, such as rehabilitative treatment, electronic monitoring and “anything that will restore harmony between offender and victim and offender and community,” according to a presentation from the committee.
“If you commit a crime, you should pay for it,” said Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation Council delegate from Shiprock.
Of the sentences that are changing, many of them previously included no jail time or fines, though the offender at times did have to repay the victim, post a bond or perform community service hours.
These will remain options as penalties, but they no longer will be the maximum penalties.
The tribe is hoping that changes to the criminal code will bring down the crime rate on the Navajo Nation.
Still, no changes will be made to the sentencing for most major crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, child kidnapping, aggravated arson, aggravated assault, battery and aggravated battery.
For all of those crimes, the maximum penalty is up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both. Often the federal courts take the worst cases, if a more severe sentence needs to be imposed.
“In our law, I think in many ways we favor the perpetrator,” Begaye said.
The following offenses currently cannot warrant jail time or a fine on the Navajo Nation, but a committee is proposing changes:
•Making a threat could receive a sentence either 180 days in jail or a $500 fine.
• Those found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor could receive a penalty of either 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
• Those found guilty of unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon could receive 180 days in jail, a $500 fine and the forfeit of their weapon. Unlawful use of a weapon could result in 90 days in jail, a $250 fine and forfeit of the weapon
• Those who commit theft could receive a sentence of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Burglars could receive the same, except they could get a $2,500 fine. Those who receive stolen property also could receive 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.
• Shoplifters taking goods worth less than $100, they could receive 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. For those who take goods worth more than $100, they could get three-times the jail sentence and five times the fine.
• Fraud could result in a mandatory 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine.
• Forgery could result in 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Other offenses currently result in sentences of jail time and fines, though the committee is considering steepening them.
For instance, the following offenses already can result in jail time and fines, but the maximum sentences could be changed:
• Those who possess liquor on the Navajo Nation currently can receive a sentence of a $50 fine for the first offense. If they are guilty of the same offense in the next six months, they can receive a $100 fine and a sentence to rehabilitation.
The committee is suggesting to change the code so that, upon the first offense, the maximum penalty could be a $500 fine. Upon second offense, within six months of the first, the maximum penalty could be a $1,000 fine and a sentence to rehabilitation.
• Sentences for the possession of marijuana will be broken down more specifically. Currently, the maximum sentence for possession of marijuana, in all amounts, was 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
• For those found with less than one ounce of marijuana, they could be subject to 20 hours of community service and a $100 fine, or 40 hours of community service and a $250 fine if it is the second offense, if the code is changed.
• Those found with less than one pound could be subject to 80 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine. Those found with more than one pound could be subject to 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
• Sentences for the production or delivery of marijuana could be boosted from 180 days in jail and a $2,500 maximum, currently, to a maximum of 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Delivery of marijuana to minors could result in the same maximum penalty, though it would be mandatory. The mandatory nature of the sentence would be the only change.
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