Officials Consider Legal Ramifications Of McGirt V. Oklahoma Ruling

Friday, July 10th 2020, 9:28 pm
By: Erick Payne

TULSA, Okla. -

The Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma said the state does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute a tribal citizen for a crime that happened on tribal land.

Legal experts said they're still working through what the decision means for criminal cases in Oklahoma.

The Tulsa County District Attorney, as well as a University of Tulsa law professor who specializes in tribal law, said there will be a lot of collaboration between state, local and tribal governments on how to handle the new developments.

TU Law Professor Aila Hoss works with the Native American Law Center focusing on Federal Indian Law and Tribes. Hoss said this week's Supreme Court ruling has a big impact on Native American criminal defendants in Oklahoma.

"Indians being prosecuted for major felonies are going to be going through the federal system. And depending on who you ask, and the literature you're looking at, there could be differences in the severity of punishment for example," Hoss said.

She said research shows many who have already been convicted won't want to gamble with a federal retrial and potentially end up with a harsher punishment. The ruling will also mean changes for federal and tribal law enforcement.

"These cases that have otherwise been with the state of Oklahoma are going to transfer to federal and tribal prosecution," Hoss said.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said that although the Supreme Court's ruling is out, they must wait for the mandate.

"Once that actually gets spread across the record, then there's going to be a lot more movement on some of these cases," Kunzweiler said.

Kunzweiler said he feels sorry for the victims of some of the cases which will be disrupted, but he said this has been brewing for a couple of years, so they've had time to prepare and plan with the groups and agencies involved.

"It's obviously something that's going to greatly impact the federal government because they're going to be taking on more cases than they're accustomed to, so we're going to help them in whatever way we can," Kunzweiler said.

Kunzweiler said once everything gets hashed out, they will have to start training law enforcement to ask people they arrest for major crimes if they are members of a tribe.