Biden administration urges judges to reject Oklahoma’s jurisdictional claim

The Biden administration this week urged U.S. Supreme Court justices to dismiss Oklahoma’s claim of jurisdiction over certain crimes involving Native Americans on reserves, saying that the federal government has exclusive authority.

The Solicitor General, the Justice Department’s attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court, also asked judges for time to make oral submissions on April 27 in the case to determine whether Oklahoma prosecutors have concurrent jurisdiction over newly asserted reservations regarding crimes with a non-Indian. the perpetrator and a Native American victim.

The administration argued in court in a brief this week that Oklahoma does not have concurrent jurisdiction in those cases unless Congress explicitly grants it.

“Absent specific authorization from Congress, the criminal jurisdiction of the United States over offenses committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Territory shall be exclusive to the jurisdiction of the State,” the solicitor’s writ states. general.

The Supreme Court is seen on the first day of the new term, in Washington, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The High Court ruling, expected later this summer, will further clarify the criminal justice picture in eastern Oklahoma following the court’s 2020 ruling that the The Muscogee (Creek) Preserve was never removed. The ruling came in the case of convicted child rapist Jimcy McGirt, who argued the state wrongfully prosecuted him because he was Native American and the crimes were committed on the Creek reservation.

The Supreme Court agreed, and the McGirt decision was extended to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole reservations. Now, criminal cases involving Native Americans on the six reservations are prosecuted in federal or tribal courts.

After: Five tribes urge Supreme Court to reject Oklahoma’s jurisdiction claim

The high court case now involves Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Indian who was convicted in state court in 2017 of child neglect and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Castro-Huerta’s charges stemmed from crimes committed against his Native American son-in-law on the Cherokee reservation.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled, following the McGirt decision, that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction in the case. Charges were filed in federal court and a plea deal was reached.

But the the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Courtarguing that federal law does not explicitly prohibit states from exercising concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government in cases on reservations with a non-Indian defendant and a Native American victim.

administration, with Castro-Huerta’s lawyer and the five tribes, argue the opposite: that Congress must explicitly confer jurisdiction on the states, and that in the absence of Congressional authority, federal and tribal jurisdiction is exclusive. Since tribal courts generally cannot prosecute non-Indians, the federal government would have exclusive authority in cases like Castro-Huerta’s, the solicitor general said.

“Over the past century, Congress has enacted a number of statutes granting particular states criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against Indians in Indian Territory,” the solicitor general’s memorandum states. “These laws confirm that, absent express authority, states have no jurisdiction over offenses committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Territory.”

The administration acknowledged that the McGirt decision “increased the practical consequences of the issue presented in Oklahoma,” but said the change “does not justify a reversal of the principles that have long governed criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country throughout the nation”.

The brief states, “Federal law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma are working diligently with tribal and state partners to address the increased caseload brought about by McGirt, including charging (Castro- Huerta) here. While Oklahoma argues that these efforts can result in shorter federal sentences, it ignores the differences between the availability of parole in the state and federal systems.

People convicted in federal court must serve their full sentence, while many people convicted of crimes in Oklahoma are eligible for parole, although violent crime convictions often require 85% of the sentence is served.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Biden administration seeks dismissal of Oklahoma’s jurisdictional claim

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