Attorney General Mike Hunter said that the state government is working with Oklahoma’s five tribes to clarify jurisdictional issues raised in a Supreme Court ruling last week. The agreement-in-principal, Hunter called it, could be sent to Congress for approval as soon as this week.
On Thursday, the country’s highest court ruled in Oklahoma that local and state law enforcement agencies do not have the authority to prosecute major crimes involving an Indigenous person on native reservation land, as defined by 19th-century treaties.
The ruling puts previous convictions of that kind in question. Hunter said his office estimates that 1,500 and 2,000 convictions could eventually be challenged.
“We’re going to have our hands full in all likelihood with folks wanting their sentence reviewed,” he said.
As a result, federal prosecutors could soon be inundated with cases of previously convicted criminals demanding a retrial.
“There’s going to have to be calculus done by the folks in state custody,” Hunter said. “Are you better off finishing your sentence, or do you want to roll the dice in a federal court where there’s much more certainty in the sentence you might receive?
Hunter said that the agreement will seek to “restore state jurisdiction” inside the tribal land. In the meantime, there is “uncertainty” among local, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies when it comes to who is responsible for what areas and crimes.
Following the ruling, Hunter’s office sent a memo to every law enforcement agency in Oklahoma to describe how to settle jurisdictional confusion between local, tribal and federal authorities.
Hunter’s office said teamwork among the three will be “vital” to ensuring public safety.
Every officer working near reservation land, the memo said, should sign a “cross-deputization agreement” with tribal authorities to allow cohesion between the agencies. “This is vital to maintaining public safety and order, especially in emergency circumstances,” the memo read.
“We don’t want catch-and-release. We don’t want someone who is a risk or a threat to the public to be released because somebody thinks they don’t have authority to take them into custody.”
The agreement between the state and tribes will address “civil and criminal” issues revealed by the Supreme Court ruling in Oklahoma v. McGirt, Hunter said.
The Principal Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which is the tribe at the center of the SCOTUS case, said in a statement Tuesday they are working hand-in-hand with the state government.
“We know that we have work ahead of us, but we’re confident in the collaborative efforts we have already put in over the years with state and federal agencies to prepare us for this moment. We see this decision as a chance to strengthen and enhance public safety for all Oklahomans,” Principal Chief David Hill said.