Oklahoma AG Seeks Guidance on Criminal Appeals After High Court Ruling

(Photo via Muscogee (Creek) Nation/Smithsonian Institution)

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter asked the state’s highest criminal appeals court Monday for guidance on a flood of inmate appeals after the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly ruled last month the state has no criminal jurisdiction on large areas the justices found are still tribal lands.

In a 5-4 majority opinion, the Supreme Court ruled on July 9 that Seminole Nation member Jimcy McGirt should have been tried in in federal court because his crimes were committed on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land. McGirt was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 500 years in state prison for rape and sodomy.

In a quickly called press conference, Hunter, a Republican, vowed Monday to fight “every single” appeal seeking to throw out a conviction under the McGirt ruling.

The attorney general’s office filed its brief for guidance Monday evening with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in the case of death row inmate Shawn Bosse, who is not a Native American. He was convicted in 2010 of murdering Chickasaw Nation member Katrina Griffin, 25, and her children Christian Griffin, 8, and Chastity Hammer, 6. Bosse is now challenging his convictions under McGirt due to the killings taking place within the original boundaries of the Chickasaw reservation and because the victims were all Native Americans.

“The McGirt case does not constitute a get-out-of-jail free card,” Hunter told reporters. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by people who have murdered, raped or committed other crimes of a serious nature while the federal government considers to re-arrest or adjudicate their cases.”

Hunter said he is “not questioning the Supreme Court’s ruling,” but is arguing the convicts waited too long to file the McGirt appeals.

“We are asking the court to make clear that the state still has jurisdiction to punish non-Indians who victimize tribal citizens, which would provide the maximum possible protection to tribal members,” he said. “We take the position that the state has a right and duty to protect our Indian citizens from those who murder them like Bosse.”

Hunter said he is not trying to undermine tribal sovereignty, saying he is instead seeking “a way for the state to work with the federal government in making sure tribal members receive police protection and justice when they are victimized.”

The attorney said he is asking the court to put the burden of proving Native American status on the defendant, as well as proving the location of the crime falling within the boundaries of tribal lands. He also is seeking a determination of whether the McGirt ruling applies to all tribal lands or just Muscogee (Creek) Nation land.

Hunter’s brief comes three weeks after he announced a joint agreement between the state and the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations to clarify criminal jurisdiction in their territories after McGirt. The agreement affirmed the Five Tribes’ criminal jurisdiction in their territories over Native American offenders while affirming the state’s criminal jurisdiction over all other offenders in the same territories.

Within one day of the announcement, however, the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations rejected the agreement. The leaders of the remaining tribes have since publicly stated the Five Tribes need more time and are still working on an agreement.

Authored by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee, the McGirt majority held Congress never disestablished the Native American reservations in the area.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” the opinion stated. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

In another high-profile case, Muscogee (Creek) Nation member and former Tulsa police officer Shannon Kepler, 60, has appealed a manslaughter conviction under McGirt. He was convicted in 2017 of shooting and killing his daughter’s boyfriend, Jeremey Lake, 19, after being tried four separate times.

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