Rogers County Judge Dismisses Wave Of Criminal Cases Due To Tribal Jurisdiction

Tuesday, March 2nd 2021, 6:14 pm


A Rogers County judge dismissed charges Tuesday against a large number of defendants currently held in the County Jail, based on the expectation their tribal citizenship status will mean state courts do not have jurisdiction in their cases.

“Nobody is getting out of jail today, but the day is coming soon when we know some will be getting out of jail, and we appreciate the Feds and the Tribes working with us, but that’s the simple reality of it,” Rogers County District Attorney Matt Ballard said.

It’s not yet certain the cases will be heard in federal or tribal courts, and Ballard believes many of them will be dropped altogether.

“We’ll come back in 90 days and if nothing has changed, those cases will be dismissed,” said Ballard.

A Supreme Court ruling that determined the Creek Reservation still exists does not apply to Rogers County, but a similar ruling is expected on the status of the Cherokee Reservation, which would. The case is now pending in a court of criminal appeals.

Tuesday, the first batch of cases, with 169 in-custody defendants, came up in Rogers County Court. A judge tentatively dismissed the cases that had paperwork in order but stayed the decision for 90 days to wait for the court decision.

Ballard said while there is no question the most serious crimes will be prosecuted, there are plenty of questions about what happens with lesser crimes where the state doesn’t have jurisdiction, and tribal or federal courts don’t prosecute.

"We know the feds are unlikely to pick up a large number of cases, the non-violent cases, they're not going to pick those up, even if they involve a victim. There's simply not enough resources for them to file all of the cases that have been traditionally filed in state court," said Ballard. “You’re going to have victims who don’t have access to justice, to a court system, who slip through the cracks. We know that’s going to be the case until something happens to change where we are.”