Published On: Thu, Apr 18th, 2013

Tribal Court issues four year sentence on heels of Tribal Law and Order Act

Russell McKinley Wolfe, 35, was convicted on Nov. 16, 2012, in the Cherokee Court for Domestic Violence Assault on a Female, Violation of a Domestic Violence Protective Order, Driving While Impaired, and Injuring Public Property.  He was sentenced to four years imprisonment.  The sentence, issued by the Honorable Kirk G. Saunooke, Cherokee Court Judge, was one of the longest sentences ever issued by the Cherokee Court and comes after the enactment of the Tribal Law and Order Act which authorized criminal sentences of greater than one year in tribal courts.

Since the sentence was handed down in Wolfe’s case, the Office of the Tribal Prosecutor, in conjunction with the Cherokee Court and Cherokee Police Department, worked together with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to authorize Wolfe’s sentence to be served in a Federal Detention Facility with the Bureau of Prisons.

Wolfe’s custodial transfer was completed on April 18, 2013.  Such a transfer was made possible by a pilot program created as part of the Tribal Law and Order Act in which tribes can apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to have their inmates serving active sentences of greater than two years transferred to Federal facilities.  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is only the second tribe nationwide to take advantage of this pilot program and have an inmate transferred to federal custody.

The significance of this transfer is that the cost of incarceration for the duration of Wolfe’s sentence, which would have exceeded $65,000 for the EBCI, will now be borne by the federal government.  Further, Wolfe will now be exposed to the rehabilitation services abundant within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, none of which would have been available had he remained in local confinement facilities through the EBCI’s current corrections system.

Tribal Prosecutor Jason Smith stated, “I want to thank Assistant Tribal Prosecutor Justin Eason, Cherokee Probation Officer John Nations, Chief Justice Bill Boyum, and the entire Corrections Division of the Cherokee Indian Police Department and Cherokee Court for their hard work and cooperation which made this transfer, the first of its kind in Cherokee and only the second nationwide, a possibility.  There was a tremendous amount of legwork and communication with Federal Bureau of Prison officials which was necessary to affect this transfer.  It is also important to note the hard work and dedication of the officers and detectives with the Cherokee Police Department including Officers James Powell, Nick Stephenson, Jamie Silvers, and Detective Sean Birchfield, who made these convictions possible.”

– Office of the Tribal Prosecutor 

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