PONTOTOC COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Thousands of criminal cases are set to be reviewed and possibly dismissed after the McGirt ruling showed its effect on the Shaun Bosse case Thursday afternoon by establishing that the Chickasaw nation’s reservation was never disestablished.
“The historical boundaries of the Chickasaw nation are still intact,” said Robert Gifford, an attorney who specializes in Native American law and is a tribal judge for five tribes. “Therefore, the state of Oklahoma has no jurisdiction over Mr. Bosse and that case has to be thrown out and reversed.”
The Shaun Bosse case dates back to 2010. Bosse was a man who was sentenced to die for the murder of Katrina Griffin and her two young children. Their bodies were found in a burning mobile home near Dibble.
Now that case has been reversed and is set to be dismissed following the ruling Thursday because the crime took place inside of the Chickasaw Nation reservation. The ruling stated that since the reservation was never disestablished, the state has no jurisdiction in it. Therefore, the case which involved state charges and a state conviction is no longer viable and will be turned over to the federal courts there since tribal courts are only granted by U.S. Congress to handle misdemeanors dealing with tribal members.
After several other court rulings, including Bosse’s case, the McGirt ruling will influence at least half of Oklahoma’s counties right now. Attorneys like Gifford said more are likely to come and it will shake things up with eastern Oklahoma’s criminal proceedings as criminal cases on reservations will need to be handed over to the federal courts or tribal courts depending on the crime’s severity.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is not used to handling this heavy of a case load, the federal courts are not used to handling this heavy of a case load,” Gifford said.
About 200 cases are to be immediately reviewed by federal courts in Tulsa. All of them specifically relate to felonious crimes like murders. Other cases could also come onto their docket soon.
“We’re talking about thousands,” Gifford said.
However, misdemeanor crimes will be up to the tribes to decide involving anyone who is a tribal member.
“We’re battling crime just like we always have,” said Pontotoc County Sheriff John Christian. “We’re out trying to make arrests; a lot of our cases are not getting filed simply because they involve an Indian defendant.”
Christian said he is dealing with the effects firsthand. A man charged with second-degree murder in 2019 for allegedly shooting and killing a man at a marijuana farm was recently released from jail in the county.
“Why expend the time, the money, to file these charges when you know they’re going to get dismissed,” Christian said.
However, Gifford said there are positives to this ruling.
“It does reestablish what sovereignty was supposed to be,” he said. “It recognizes the rights of those tribes.”
Christian said he’s seen some other inmates released because of the ruling. Gifford, though, said that might not happen much, citing that state, federal and tribal governments work together all the time. He said this should lead to smooth transitions of cases to the right jurisdiction due to this.
After the ruling and the increase in workload for federal prosecutors, attorneys like Gifford said they might be forced to ask other federal prosecutors, even out of state, to assist them with the influx of cases coming their way.