The Supreme Court handed down an opinion last week that will drastically change the court system in our state, specifically in Eastern Oklahoma.
For those that need a little background—this case centered around Jimmy McGirt, a Seminole man who argued that he could not be found guilty of his sex crimes by the state of Oklahoma because the actions in question took place on Muscogee Creek Nation lands that were guaranteed to the nation in an 1866 treaty.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with McGirt in a split 5-4 decision ruling that the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation was not officially terminated at Oklahoma statehood. This ruling now means that essentially all of Eastern Oklahoma is still considered an Indian Reservation when it comes to criminal law.
For those concerned about what this ruling means, please do not panic. It doesn’t take away your property rights, and you still live in the state of Oklahoma. However, this ruling will impact crimes committed by a tribal member on Native American lands, as well as crimes committed by non-tribal members against tribal victims on this land.
Basically, tribal members serving sentences on state law crimes now have a cause of action and a path to potentially have their conviction overturned and release granted, since the ruling stated that Oklahoma didn’t have jurisdiction over these crimes. This does not mean that every incarcerated Native American will suddenly be released from prison, and any crime committed by a non-tribal member on tribal land will still be prosecuted by the state. Cases impacted by the ruling will be litigated on a case-by-case basis, and some crimes could be newly prosecuted if they fall under the federal Major Crimes Act, General Crimes Act, or Assimilative Crimes Act; or if the crime is not included as a crime in the tribal code; and if it is not beyond the statute of limitations.
Because of the impact this ruling will have on the judicial system, Attorney General Mike Hunter and the Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations announced that they’ve made substantial progress toward an agreement in addressing the significant jurisdictional issues raised by the Supreme Court’s decision. They will present this plan of action to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice. In a joint statement, the group also reiterated that they remain committed to ensuring all offenders face justice for crimes they’ve committed.
It will be interesting to see how this ruling plays out over the course of the next few months and years. I’ll keep a close eye on this and update you as more information becomes available.
Finally, thank you for the confidence you have placed in me to serve as your State Senator for another four-year term. I know we have our work cut out for us, but I’m positive we can make a true difference in our state by working together. As always, if there is something I can help you with, please feel free to reach out to my office. You can email me at Micheal.Bergstrom@oksenate.gov or call 405-521-5561.
Capitol Considerations is a column by Senator Micheal Bergstrom.