SCOTUS: Half of Oklahoma to Remain Native American Land
The Supreme Court of the United States ("SCOTUS") ruled that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation, a decision that will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases.
The court's decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state. The ruling will have significant legal implications for eastern Oklahoma. Much of Tulsa, the state's second-largest city, is located on Muscogee (Creek) land. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation cheered the court's decision.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts, wrote that the decision "will undermine numerous convictions obtained by the State, as well as the State's ability to prosecute serious crimes committed in the future," and "may destabilize the governance of vast swathes of Oklahoma."
In the future, certain major crimes committed within the boundaries of reservations must be prosecuted in federal court rather than state court, if a Native American is involved. So if a Native American is accused of a major crime in downtown Tulsa, the federal government rather than the state government will prosecute it. Less serious crimes involving Native Americans on American Indian land will be handled in tribal courts.
Then there's the issue of past decisions, many of them are now considered wrongful convictions because the state lacked jurisdiction. A number of criminal defendants who have been convicted in the past will now have grounds to challenge their convictions, arguing that the state never had jurisdiction to try them.
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