Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had video. It has since been removed.
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The United States Supreme Court has provided a bit of clarity on a recent ruling that sent shockwaves through the judicial system in Oklahoma.
On July 9, 2020, 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.”
The decision altered the state’s legal jurisdiction and law enforcement capabilities for 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,” then-Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in August of 2020.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, Hunter said his office was flooded with appeals.
“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.”
In the meantime, tribal nations have worked to take over hundreds of cases impacted by the decision.
In August, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the McGirt decision should stand, but that it should not be applied to cases retroactively. Instead, it should simply be applied to criminal cases moving forward.
“New rules of criminal procedure generally apply to cases pending on direct appeal when the rule is announced, with no exception for cases where the rule is a clear break with past law,” the court wrote. “But new rules generally do not apply retroactively to convictions that are final, with a few narrow exceptions.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of the Oklahoma court’s ruling. As a result, the lower court’s decision about McGirt not being applied retroactively to past cases stands.
“This is an important victory for the safety of victims, families of victims, and the people of Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor. “Victims and their families will not be required to relive their tragic experiences by testifying in new trials, or worse, seeing the perpetrators out in society.”
O’Connor says he would still like to have McGirt overturned or clarified and limited.