To the editor:
There is somewhat of a social understanding that tribal officials (council delegates and chapter officials) are typically judged less harshly than average citizens when it comes to breaking the law. Just getting slapped on the wrist for those crimes with partial payback and limited or no jail time.
The level of inconsistency between sentencing for elected tribal officials and average citizens is a major concern. The main reason that Dineh law and punishments for violating laws are written down is so that consistency can be maintained.
To be clear, there is a chance that elected tribal officials are not always guilty of the crimes they have been charged with. However, it does seem their former roles and social status has a direct impact on the degree to which Navajo judges apply laws to them.
At the present time, there is not a more prevalent example than that of the council delegates who were sentenced, but the fine and punishment are not what they should be. Most, if not all, have been given light sentences, and a fine that is far less than the crime they committed.
The legal system of the Dineh Nation needs to hold former elected leaders to the same standards to which it holds the rest of us. That standard must include the same degree of punishment, or higher.
It often times makes you wonder if their prior status and previous relationship with Navajo judges is a significant factor for receiving light sentences and sometimes out of trouble entirely.
Meanwhile, common citizens who have committed lesser crimes spend years in jail. In some cases, these average citizens are released years after their sentencing when the case is reviewed or new evidence is discovered.
Maybe it is time that elected tribal leaders be judged more harshly than we would expect to be judged ourselves, because, after all, they are given a special status and the fact that they were elected to protect Navajo people and the Dineh Nation.
This principle of the jail system is behavioral modification. If our legal system truly believes that their jail system works, why should it not sentence former leaders to a stricter standard because they have a very special privilege status, which they take for granted and abuse?
If we are going to stop elected leaders from taking advantage and abusing the system, then the measure of justice for each of them should be more stringent than given to the average Navajo citizen.
Wallace Hanley, Window Rock, Arizona