Supreme Court rules Oklahoma State has concurrent jurisdiction in Indian Territory

On Wednesday, Native News Online reported that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma has jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian Country. It is the first time in U.S. history that a state has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government.

In Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, the state asked the Supreme Court to return some criminal jurisdiction to it after the McGirt v Oklahoma ruling in 2020 determined that much of the eastern part of the state is still an Indian reservation and the state’s criminal jurisdiction is limited to crimes involving non-Indians only. Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals applied the McGirt decision to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Quapaw reservations.

“We conclude that the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the ruling’s opinion. “We therefore reverse the judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

Until now, criminal jurisdiction in Indian territory committed by non-Indians went to either the U.S. or the state, but not both. States have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against other non-Indians in Indian territory, however.

“With today’s decision, Oklahoma has not only weakened a component of the McGirt case, but has fundamentally altered the long-established understanding of how criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians functions with respect to the federal government, state governments, and Tribal Nation governments, ” the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said in a joint statement with Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

Learn more about the recent ruling and see other responses from Indigenous leaders.

Source: Native News Online. “Supreme Court Rules State has Concurrent Jurisdiction in Indian Territory.” June 29, 2022