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Purpose Area #3 Tribal Justice Systems Program

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $861,055)

Pueblo of Isleta Prosecutor & Public Defender Office

Purpose Area # 3: Coversheet/Abstract

The Pueblo of Isleta is a federally recognized tribe located in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.  With this funding, the Pueblo Prosecutor and the Pueblo Public Defender will improve their services to their respective clients and create a better system of justice.

 The Pueblo of Isleta has existed for over a millennium.  The Isleta people are culturally unique and adhere to a close-knit, family and clan based system with traditional practices and a strong sense of community. Today, Isleta is sandwiched between the New Mexico cities of Albuquerque and Los Lunas; these cities grapple with violence, drugs, and gangs and these cities lack any sense of community. The challenge is to keep the Pueblo of Isleta strong; to maintain its beautiful way of life.

            The Court system helps maintain Isleta’s legal and cultural independence from the State’s surrounding communities. The Prosecution and the Public Defender are the key players in criminal court.

            The Prosecution is seeking grant money to improve its services by hiring another prosecutor.  An additional prosecutor will help the Prosecution improve case initiation and investigation. A criminal case begins with the filing of a legally sufficient complaint to support the charges.  At the present time, police officers, not lawyers, write the complaints.  As a result, some complaints are dismissed at arraignment because the officer neglected to put necessary information into the complaints.  The Pueblo Prosecutor also needs an additional prosecutor to help review discovery.  Discovery now includes lapel cameras.  Lapels provide critical evidence but reviewing them is laborious.  At this time, the Pueblo has only one prosecutor but the work-load requires two.

            The Public Defender is seeking grant money to contract with private attorneys to handle conflict cases.   Lawyers are generally not allowed to represent co-defendants.  Lawyers also are not allowed to represent a defendant if the lawyer owes a duty of confidentiality to a witness (because the witness was a former client).  These situations present conflicts of interest and affect the lawyer’s duty of zealous representation.

            In the past, the Pueblo has not been able to sufficiently fund conflict counsel, leaving co-defendants and other conflict clients by themselves, defending without a lawyer.  The Public Defender needs the CTAS grant for contract counsel.  Without this grant, many defendants will be forced to defend themselves in criminal court. Over 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the right to counsel is so fundamental to a fair trial that the States must provide free counsel to indigent defendants.   While tribes are not so obligated, clearly it is fundamentally unfair for a tribal member to defend himself against a lawyer-prosecutor, trained police officers, and a tribal judge.  Defense counsel legitimizes criminal proceedings and provides clients with support and understanding about proceedings.  Good defense counsel also helps her clients seek treatment for the root causes of their criminal activity (usually alcohol and substance abuse).   The Public Defender is asking for this CTAS grant so that all criminal defendants will have a meaningful right to counsel.

Date Created: November 23, 2021