On July 8, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma that greatly impacts jurisdiction over criminal cases in much of Eastern Oklahoma.
In basic terms, the Court found that the original Creek lands were a reservation and Congress never abolished that original reservation.
It is well established under federal law that states have no criminal jurisdiction over cases involving native members within reservations. For major crimes the federal government has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute and for other crimes it is often a matter of tribal and/or federal jurisdiction.
Although the decision limited its analysis to the Creek reservation only, the federal government historically treated all of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma somewhat similarly as the Creek Nation. Therefore, there is a great likelihood that there will soon be challenges to the State’s exercise of criminal jurisdiction in the prosecution of cases involving tribal members within our district that covers all of LeFlore and Latimer Counties. I want to assure the residents of our district that my office will do everything possible to assure the safety of our citizens.
We will vigorously litigate the issue and try to preserve the convictions of violent offenders currently incarcerated and seek justice for those awaiting trial. We are working closely with the Oklahoma Attorney General and will appeal any state court decision that threatens the safety of our community. In the event that a federal court should find that the McGirt case applies to other tribes, we will work closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Choctaw Nation to ensure a transition of those cases to the proper court system. While these are uncertain times, if we all continue to work with each other, we cannot fail.
JEFFREY C. SMITH District Attorney