Supreme Court Ruling On Tribal Jurisdiction Bringing New Challenges, Acting U.S. Attorney Says

Wednesday, April 7th 2021, 6:10 pm

MUSKOGEE, Oklahoma -

Acting U.S. Attorney Chris Wilson says his office has reached a milestone: filing nearly 100 murder cases since the ruling on tribal jurisdiction in July.

"We are every day making request for additional resources --- for more bodies, all so we can address 98 murder cases, because that's 98 families of victims," Wilson told News On 6. 

Wilson says his office is one of the smallest in the country. So, they are having to rely on the tribes to handle smaller violent crimes. They've also brought on dozens of people across the country to help with the caseload.

Last week, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that both the Choctaw and Seminole nations are reservations that were never disestablished by Congress. Therefore, if the ruling stands, all five civilized tribes will be recognized in the Supreme Court ruling on tribal jurisdiction. 

Wilson says now, all 26 counties in his district are considered Indian Country, and all major crimes on that land could be prosecuted by federal or tribal court. 

"If a person who's a violent offender is released, and they go hurt someone--that's my worst fear. That's why the men and women in this office spend the hours that they do," Wilson explained. 

Wilson says resources are only one issue, and an even bigger challenge is dealing with the gaps in justice and handling victims. "Unfortunately, there's going to be those situations that we discuss if it's a non-murder case or case that has a shorter statute of limitations, we may be telling [the victims], 'I'm sorry, but we're unable to prosecute that case.' How we address that? I don't know," Wilson admitted. 

Wilson says he understands people's frustrations. That's why his office is trying to stay ahead of the chaos.

"Working for the US attorney‘s office is the greatest job in the world, and I get emotional about it," Wilson said with tears in his eyes. "Do we work long hours? Yes. Are we going to work a lot more hours? Yeah. Do we need to help? Yes. Are we going to do it? Yes. Because that’s what we do every day," Wilson added. 

A federal grand jury will give out indictments for over 70 major cases. That's the largest ever for this district.