Tribal Defenders Office

The mission of the Tribal Defenders Office is to provide a requisite balance of quality legal representation to Indian criminal defendants in the prosecution of criminal cases within the courts of the Tribal system and State system. Our office provides legal representation to Indian criminal defendants who are enrolled members of ANY federally recognized tribe in the Tribal Court; juveniles who are either enrolled or enrollable members of any federally recognized tribe or who are first generation descendants of such tribes in a Montana State Court. The Tribal Defenders also provide, on a case-by-case basis, legal representation to CS&KT members in a civil disputes and provide a balanced resolution forms to qualified individuals (eligible pursuant to existing guidelines) who want to initiate uncontested actions on their own in Tribal Court.

Tribal Defenders continued their commitment to holistic, client-centered public defense by addressing the issues that bring their clients into the criminal justice system and the collateral consequences to criminal charges.  To that end, the Defenders look for alternatives to the criminal justice system that contribute to positive change in the community.  Special services provided are:  

  • Community Outreach – this year we educated the community on the right to counsel for the indigent, the problem of over incarceration, the Montana Innocence Project, Tribal Appellate Court practice, collateral consequences to criminal charges, and services available at the Tribal Defenders Office.  
  • Driver’s License Restoration - we help clients restore their driving privileges and have had continued success.  In 2014, 32 obtained valid licenses.  
  • Cultural mentoring – volunteers, who were recruited through the culture committees, assist clients in making amends for their wrongs while reconnecting to their community. Clients served by this program have had a low recidivism rate.
  • Psychology and Case Management – Psychology services are provided by clinical psychology doctoral candidates from the University of Montana under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Accessibility of this service in the Defenders Office has allowed clients to be more successful in obtaining assessments and following treatment recommendations. Case managers assist clients to access services.

Tribal Defenders offer civil and criminal legal services for those who financially qualify according to guidelines set by Tribal Council. The office also serves as a walk-in legal clinic that assists people with legal questions.

The Civil Division represents Tribal members in landlord-tenant matters, consumer issues, some child custody, guardianships, mental health commitments, adult protective services, and jurisdictional issues. People who are not offered representation are referred to community resources or given direction on how to proceed with the assistance of self-help forms. The Civil Division also offers mediation services through the University of Montana, School of Law, Mediation Clinic.

The Defenders Criminal Division provides representation to financially eligible adults who are charged in Tribal criminal court and to juveniles charged in Tribal youth court. Representation begins with an initial appearance, continues through trial, appeal, sentencing and post-conviction assistance.  

The Defenders reach out to tribal members who are in Montana’s prisons to assist with collateral issues resulting from their conviction and incarceration. In collaboration with Tribal Police, Tribal Behavioral Health, and the Department of Human Resources Development, the Defenders are seeking funding to expand services to tribal members who are returning from correctional institutions.