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DURANT, Okla. (KFOR) – Following a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, the Choctaw Nation says it is preparing to take over more than 100 criminal cases.

On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Muscogee (Creek) reservation was never disestablished.

It’s a ruling that has a big impact on the state’s criminal justice system.

“For anybody that has an Indian card, a CDIB card, a certified degree of Indian blood,” Native American law attorney Robert Gifford told KFOR. “If they are within the Creek Nation, the state of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction over them.”

State, local, tribal leaders meet for McGirt decision discussion
This week, state leaders including Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat, District 22’s District Attorney Paul B. Smith and Attorney General Mike Hunter met for discussions regarding the McGirt decision and how they will move forward with cases, both past and present, involving Native Americans on tribal land. (Photo: KFOR)

As it stands, these decisions alter the State’s legal jurisdiction and law enforcement capabilities on a significant portion of eastern Oklahoma, creating uncertainty for many Oklahomans.

“In general, the McGirt decision by the United States Supreme Court has created a significant amount of confusion, especially in regards to inmates who are serving time in state custody for crimes committed on historic tribal lands,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in August.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Hunter said his office was flooded with appeals, which he said he would oppose.

“The McGirt case does not constitute a get out of prison free card,” Hunter said. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by individuals who have murdered, raped, or committed another crime of a serious nature while the federal government considers whether to rearrest or adjudicate their cases.”

Now, the Choctaw Nation is prepared to file more than 125 cases in the District Court of the Choctaw Nation following the McGirt decision.

“The Choctaw Nation has been preparing for the shift in criminal case jurisdiction for well over two years.  I am grateful for the work of our Public Safety Department, Tribal Prosecutor’s Office, our Judicial branch, and the Sovereignty for Strong Communities Commission to protect public safety and to offer individuals a fair and efficient trial,” said Chief Gary Batton.

To date, the Choctaw Nation has reviewed more than 500 cases involving self-identified Native American defendants from the State of Oklahoma, with a focus on incarcerated defendants. Those cases have been provided to the Choctaw Nation Department of Public Safety (DPS) for investigation.

“Our coordination with the State of Oklahoma, District Attorney Offices within our reservation, and our Choctaw Nation Department of Public Safety should prevent any currently incarcerated individual from being released based solely on a McGirt jurisdictional claim,” said Kara Bacon, Tribal Prosecutor for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Choctaw Nation Tribal Prosecutor’s Office now includes six full-time Assistant Tribal Prosecutor positions and two administrative assistants. Officials say they will work to make state and federal agencies aware of criminal convictions and current protective orders issued by the Choctaw Nation District Court.   

To prepare for the influx of cases, the court system invested in new case management software that interfaces with the Choctaw Nation Tribal Prosecutor’s Office and streamlines the filing process of new criminal cases.

In addition to criminal case identification, the Choctaw Nation Tribal Prosecutor Office has worked with the Department of Public Safety to provide virtual jurisdictional training to tribal, state, and city law enforcement agencies on the impact of the McGirt decision. This training assists the authorities with the identification and verification of appropriate jurisdiction for the cases being investigated.