Friday — September 02, 2022

Do you know: Public Law (PL-280)

by: Patricia Lerma

Public Law 83-280 (Public Law 280 or PL-280) was enacted in 1953 and modified the allocation of criminal jurisdiction in tribal communities. PL-280 granted certain states criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans on reservations and allowed civil litigation that had come under tribal or federal court jurisdiction to be handled by state courts.

Mandatory PL-280 and Optional PL-280

Congress made it mandatory that six states enforce PL-280 expanding their jurisdiction of Tribal lands. Between 1953 and 1968, several states other than the original six exercised expanded criminal jurisdiction on Tribal lands. Their jurisdictions are often referred to as "optional PL-280."

Mandatory States Optional States

Alaska Arizona

California Florida

Minnesota Idaho

Nebraska Iowa

Oregon Montana

Wisconsin Nevada

North Dakota

South Dakota



PL-280 provided no financial support for the newly established state law enforcement responsibilities​. ​The law also did not expressly abolish the Tribal justice system's jurisdiction, ​nor did it diminish the federal government's overall trust responsibility to tribes or reject federal obligations to provide services to tribes other than federal law enforcement.

Court decisions have attempted to define the jurisdictional contours of PL-280. However, they have also raised some areas of uncertainty, one area being the scope of regulatory versus prohibitory laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that "regulatory" rather than "prohibitory" state criminal laws are outside the scope of jurisdiction conferred by PL-280. This distinction has generated considerable litigation.

"Hostility between Native Americans and law enforcement officers has resulted from PL280. According to one study, state or county police serving PL280 reservations are rated by their residents as less available, slower in response time, less prone to equally attend to minor or serious calls, provide less beneficial patrolling services, are less willing to act without authority, more frequently decline services owing to remoteness, and are located farther away than federal-BIA and tribal police on non-PL280 reservations (PL-280, 2017)." Tribes and States have voiced the need for more research regarding the consequences, including perceived jurisdictional uncertainty and insufficient funding for law enforcement.

Learn how PL-280 can impact an MMIW investigation, clicking the link below.

Additional research

What is Public Law 280 and where does it apply? | Indian Affairs (

Frequently Asked Questions about Public Law 83-280 (