A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down this week that ruled much of the eastern half of Oklahoma should be recognized as an American Indian reservation could influence thousands of criminal cases.
By a 5-to-4 decision, U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled a large chunk of land in the eastern part of the state, which includes Tulsa, is American Indian territory, and therefore U.S. criminal courts have no jurisdiction.
That means thousands of Oklahoma Indians can potentially contest current and past criminal cases against them.
“And the challenge is one of jurisdiction, meaning that the court didn’t even have the power over them.So many of those cases will be retried in federal court. Some of those cases will just be overturned and they’ll never retry them because they can’t find witnesses, evidence is lost,” defense attorney David Slane said.
Slane plans to go through decades of old cases to see if convictions can be overturned. He said many will never be retried.
“They’re not going to expend federal resources to go after a marijuana case or something minor so that person may very well get it overturned, get to expunge their record and go forward and they get a second chance,” Slane said.
On the flip side, he said, a lot of folks who thought they had justice, may not.
“Think of all the victims of crimes that thought all this was over, they moved on with their life. Now they’re going to have to go back and potentially revisit the issues. It’s going to have a far-reaching effect.”
Still, Slane said he believes the high court made the right decision here.
“The state should have saw this. The fact that they just ignored it for all this time, and candidly we’ve ignored Indian issues and rights for a long time, it’s come back to haunt us,” Slane said.