OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S. Congress must take action to allow American Indian tribes to compact with state governments to prosecute crimes in Indian Country, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said this week.
The tribe has filed charges in 440 criminal cases since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last July in what is known as the McGirt decision that Oklahoma prosecutors lack jurisdiction for crimes on tribal reservations in which the defendants or victims are tribal citizens, Hill said during a news conference.
The tribe must be able to work with the state to prosecute some cases, Hill said, adding that federal legislation is needed to allow that cooperation.
“One of the ways that you might do that would be to compact where the state could exercise jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians” on tribal reservations, but without impacting tribal sovereignty, Hill said.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals recently rejected state Attorney General Mike Hunter's claim that the state also had jurisdiction in the case of Shaun Michael Bosse, a decision that Hunter is asking the court to reconsider.
The court overturned the conviction and death sentence of Bosse, who is not Native American but was convicted in the 2010 killings of Katrina Griffin and her two young children, who were Native American, on land within the Chickasaw Nation’s historic reservation.
Tribal courts are limited to three-year prison sentences for any conviction, regardless of the crime, Hill said, and up to nine years if a person is convicted of three or more crimes. Federal prosecutors, though, could seek more severe sentences in major crimes such as murder, according to Hill.
The McGirt decision found that only the Creek Nation's reservation was never disestablished by Congress, but the state court has since ruled in various cases that the decision also applies to the historic reservations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations.
Hill said the Cherokees were expecting the state rulings and had filed charges in some of the 440 cases prior to the rulings overturning the convictions.
“We've been extremely busy ... making a $10 million investment in additional prosecutors, court staff, marshals service" and expanding court facilities and contracting with county jails to hold inmates, Hill said.