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State prosecution of non-Native Americans who commit crimes on tribal land is permitted

September 23, 20224 Mins Read

State prosecution of non-Native Americans who commit crimes on tribal land is permitted, according to the US Supreme Court

According to Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., “With today’s ruling, the US Supreme Court┬ádecided against legal tradition and the fundamental foundations of legislative power and Indian law.”
On Wednesday, a split Supreme Court decided that states now have the power to punish non-Native criminal offences committed on tribal grounds where the victim is a Native American.

Following a request from Oklahoma lawmakers, led by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, to review a landmark ruling from 2020 in which the US Supreme Court sided with Indigenous sovereignty and delegated the responsibility for prosecuting these crimes to federal and tribal officials, the high court, by a vote of 5 to 4, agreed.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, which was decided 5-4, and he argued that Oklahoma lacked the authority and jurisdiction to bring charges against McGirt, an individual who was found guilty by the state of sex abuse crimes and is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

The focus of the new claims was non-Native Victor Castro-Huerta, who was accused by state prosecutors of starving his crippled 5-year-old stepdaughter, a Native American who is a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma’s Eastern Band.

It’s important to note that the court explicitly said when it accepted Castro-case Huerta’s that it had rejected the state’s desire to completely reverse the McGirt decision and had instead merely agreed to reexamine the jurisdictional question. In situations in “Indian Country” if the victim is Native American and the offender is not, the court expressly said that this applies.
The fact that a sizable area of eastern Oklahoma is still an American Indian reserve sets a major precedent for future cases, according to the court’s 2020 ruling. According to the judgement, the state is not permitted to prosecute Native Americans who are suspected of committing crimes on tribal lands, which comprise the majority of Tulsa, the second-largest city in Oklahoma and one of the most dangerous metropolitan regions in the country.

The fact that federal officials have acknowledged they lack the resources to pursue the full scope of offences that have fallen under their purview is a significant factor in both McGirt v. Oklahoma and Castro-cases. Huerta’s

If the court finds against the state, “it’s going to affect Indian victims,” Justice Kavanaugh, a dissenter in the 2020 decision, commented.
Attorney Kannon Shanmugam for the state of Oklahoma strongly disagreed with the high court’s prior decision, claiming that only the federal government has the power to pursue crimes in almost half of the state, creating a serious issue and leaving offenders on the streets.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s attorney general, Sarah Hill, on the other hand, criticised the SCOTUS’s decision to take up the matter again, claiming that “prior to the decision in McGirt, Oklahoma had never attempted to assert jurisdiction over non-Indians who committed crimes against Indians,” and that Oklahoma was “creating as much chaos and doubt as possible.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the lone current member who wasn’t present when the court discussed the McGirt case, was a crucial swing vote in the case. Associate Justice adopted the majority’s position.

Notably, Coney Barrett succeeded Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after she passed away. Ginsberg emphasised the value of a single justice and agreed with the majority in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case.

The five judges emphasised in their argument on Wednesday that maintaining tribal independence would not be hampered by granting the state prosecuting power.

“In this case, tribal self-government would not be violated by the state’s exercise of authority. A state prosecution would not bar an earlier or later federal prosecution since a State’s authority runs simultaneously with the federal government’s. The State has a significant sovereign interest in safeguarding both Indian and non-Indian crime victims, as well as guaranteeing public safety and criminal justice on its soil “the judgement was read.

Given that the McGirt decision had already established multiple treaties between the government and Native American tribes, the judgement will be widely perceived as an assault on the sovereignty of tribal territories and a violation of such accords.

Following the decision, Hill commented, saying, “It’s crucial for the tribe to maintain as much of our sovereignty as possible because that’s how we safeguard our villages.”

“With today’s judgement, the US Supreme Court decided against legal precedent and the fundamental foundations of legislative power and Indian law,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday.

Numerous cases that have already been decided upon might be reconsidered by the high court as the court’s dynamics continue to change, changing the outcomes of the cases.

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