Oklahoma AG: We can’t fight crime in half the state

On Balance with Leland Vittert

(NewsNation) —  Oklahoma’s attorney general is asking the Supreme Court to allow his state to prosecute crimes on Native American reservations, as nearly 2 million people living in the eastern half of his state are effectively immune to criminal cases at the state level.

“We’ve asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Oklahoma to continue to prosecute non-Indians who commit crime on Indians,” Attorney General John O’Connor said during Friday’s edition of “On Balance with Leland Vittert.”

“We can’t believe it ourselves that after 113 years of prosecuting non-Indians who commit these crimes on Indians, we now have to ask permission from the United States Supreme Court to exercise that element of state sovereignty in our state,” he continued.

The conflict stems from a 2020 Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma. They found Congress never annulled the Muscogee Nation reservation, effectively declaring 43 percent of the state tribal land.

It means the state has no jurisdiction in prosecuting crimes committed by or against Native Americans; tribal governments or the U.S. government must pursue them. O’Connor says it’s letting criminals escape justice and remain in communities.

The Supreme Court heard an appeal from Oklahoma this week asking them to re-evaluate the 2020 decision. The case, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, concerns a non-Native man sentenced to 35 years in prison for starving his 5-year-old step daughter, who was Native. The conviction was overturned on the grounds that state prosecutors did not have jurisdiction even though the crime happened in Tulsa.

Castro-Huerta has pleaded guilty in a separate federal case.

After the 2020 ruling, an additional five reservations in the state were affirmed by lower courts.

“We have a petition pending for cert pending before the U.S. Supreme court in which we’re asking them to tell us who an Indian is,” O’Connor said. “We have people who commit violent crimes, get arrested by the state of Oklahoma, they’re getting prosecuted, they realized they can join an Indian nation, they do, then they get the McGirt get-out-of-jail free card, play it, and they’re out roaming the streets,” he continued.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the 2020 ruling was just, and narrowing its scope would be a mistake.

“The state’s demand to undermine tribal sovereignty is inconsistent with legal precedent, the intent of Congress and the basics of Indian law,” Hoskin said. “The sate has wasted time and resources attacking our right and sovereignty.

O’Connor believes that Congress can fix it, but said he doesn’t feel as if it’s a priority.

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