Published On: Tue, May 12th, 2020

Vice Chief submits legislation to harshen penalties for tribal drug offenses 

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF 

 

In an effort to combat the illicit drug issue on the tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley has submitted legislation that would harshen the penalties of those convicted of tribal drug offenses.  During a specially-called session of Tribal Council on Tuesday, May 12, Ordinance No. 180 (2020) and Ordinance No. 181 (2020) were both deemed read and tabled.  

Vice Chief Ensley told the One Feather, “I’ve talked to many of our tribal members.  They say we need action to fight the war on drugs that we are facing here on our Boundary, and I say we need action now.  Our Boundary has been dealing with the drug epidemic for some time.  In the past month, the number of overdoses has increased.” 

He added, “We have laws on the books now, but it seems those laws aren’t strong enough.  I have introduced amendments to strengthen the laws in an effort to protect our community and our tribal residents.  Mandatory minimum sentences for dealers and those convicted of possession are proposed in the amendments.  We, the leaders of the Tribe, have to make every effort to fight the drug epidemic and if that means tougher laws that is a step we need to take.” 

Michael McConnell, EBCI interim attorney general, said during Tuesday’s session, “These are attempts to take a tougher stance on some aspects of the drug problem that has very much increased lately.” 

He said there should be “substantial discussion” on the ordinances prior to passage including receiving input from the Cherokee Tribal Court as to how these changes would roll out.  

Tabled Ord. No. 180 states in part, “…the number of people abusing and trafficking in controlled substances on tribal trust land has increased dramatically, and nearly every Cherokee family and every tribal community has been adversely affected by the increase in drug abuse and trafficking whether it’s been through the overdose or death of a loved one, the incarceration of a relative or community member, or the increase in thefts from area homes and businesses…”  

The ordinance establishes a new chapter (Chapter 2A) in the Cherokee Code entitled Real Property Forfeitures.  Sec. 2A-1(a) states, “Real property is subject to civil forfeiture to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians when the real property is used to facilitate an offense stated in subsection (b).  Facilitation shall mean that the property was used to commit, or subsequently conceal, illicit activity.” 

Sec. 2A-1(b) outlines the offenses that would warrant a forfeiture. “All civil forfeitures and interests in real property shall proceed as Tribal Council proceedings upon a Cherokee Code 14-95.6 conviction or any state or federal conviction where such offenses would constitute a 14-95.6 offense under the Cherokee Code.  For purposes of this Chapter, real property shall mean the possessory holding and all improvements attached to the possessory interest.”  

According to the Cherokee Code, a 14-95.6 offense is “Manufacture, Sell or Deliver, or Possession with Intent to Manufacture, Sell or Deliver, of a Controlled Substance”.  

Tabled Ord. No. 181 starts with amending punishment levels in Sec. 14-95.21.  Imprisonment times would change for the various classes of penalties including: Class A would raise from one year to 18 months, Class B would raise from six months to one year, Class C would raise from 30 days to six months, and Class D remains the same.  

This ordinance also proposes changes to Cherokee Code Sec. 14-10 as follows: 

* Sec. 14-10.9 Criminal mischief to property: increases maximum term of imprisonment from six months to one year 

* Sec. 14-10.15 First degree trespass: increases maximum fine from $5,000 to $15,000 and increases maximum term of imprisonment from one year to three years 

* Sec. 14-10.16 Second degree trespass: increases maximum fine from $1,000 to $5,000 and increases maximum term of imprisonment from 30 days to one year 

* Sec. 14-10.41 changed to Breaking or Entering: increases the range of fine from $250 – $5,000 to $500 – $15,000 and increases maximum term of imprisonment from one year to three years 

* Sec. 14-10.60 Larceny: increases maximum term of imprisonment from six months to one year 

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