An Oklahoma appeals court agreed with a death-row inmate that the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute him because the murders for which he has been charged occurred on Chickasaw Nation territory that Congress dissolved and the victims were tribe members.
(CN) — Oklahoma’s highest criminal appeals court tossed a death-row inmate’s triple murder conviction Thursday, agreeing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling that the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute due to a failure by Congress to dissolve the tribal lands the crimes were committed on.
In a 5-0 ruling, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted Shaun Bosse, 38, post-conviction relief. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2012 for killing girlfriend Katrina Griffin and her two young children, Christian Griffin and Chastity Hammer, in a mobile home south of Oklahoma City on Chickasaw Nation land. All three victims were tribe members, while Bosse is not.
“Petitioner’s victims were Indian, and this crime was committed in Indian County,” the 24-page opinion states. “The federal government, not the state of Oklahoma, has jurisdiction to prosecute petitioner.”
The high court originally upheld Bosse’s conviction in 2015, but Bosse asked for post-conviction relief soon after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last July that Seminole Nation member Jimcy McGirt should have been tried in federal court for rape and sodomy instead of state court. McGirt successfully argued his crimes were committed on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land, which was never dissolved by Congress.
Bosse’s attorney, assistant federal public defender Michael Lieberman, said his client is “relieved” the death sentence was vacated.
“We are grateful to the Court of Criminal Appeals for considering out arguments as seriously as they did,” Lieberman said.
Bosse is expected to be transferred to federal custody where federal prosecutors are expected to charge him.
Republican Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Thursday’s tossing of Bosse’s state conviction was “not unexpected” in the wake of McGirt. He urged Congress to pass legislation that gives the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations the ability to compact with the state on criminal jurisdiction.
“Both these Nations have also called for Congress to pass such federal legislation. We have successfully compacted on important issues, but compacting on criminal jurisdiction requires federal legislation first,” Hunter said in a statement. “Crimes are being committed every day on lands now recognized to be reservations, and today’s decisions only place greater burdens on federal resources that are already stretched.”
Hunter has acknowledged the confusion the McGirt ruling has caused in the state, with a flood of criminal appeals being filed in its wake. In August, Hunter vowed to fight “every single” post-McGirt appeal seeking to throw out a conviction.
“The McGirt case does not constitute a get-out-of-jail free card,” Hunter said at the time. “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.”
Robert J. Troester, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, acknowledged the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling “generally expands federal jurisdiction” of crimes involving tribal offenders or tribal victims within the Chickasaw Nation.