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McGirt report shows impact of decision on federal, tribal agencies

Posted at 6:23 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 13:20:18-04

TULSA, Okla. — A new report shows the impact the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court decision is having on criminal cases in Oklahoma.

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office commissioned the study paid for by the Department of Justice and done by two Oral Roberts University professors. This report looks at how the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Cherokee Nation and Muscogee Nation are handling cases referred to them by the Tulsa County DA's Office from July 2020 through May 2021.

According to the report, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Cherokee Nation indicted fewer than 20 percent of the nearly 1500 cases referred by the DA’s office. Researchers only got limited data from Muscogee Nation.

A majority of those cases indicted were violent felonies.

“Generally speaking, there’s still less than a third, maybe even less than 25 percent, of the violent cases that are getting picked up," said Dr. Curtis Ellis, professor of political science at ORU and one of the authors of the report. "This is more than likely an infrastructural problem. The federal courts and the tribal courts just don’t have the resources to take everything that the counties are having to hand off.”

The federal and tribal offices are seeing an influx of cases as a result of the McGirt decision, which ruled Oklahoma lacks jurisdiction on tribal land. The U.S. Attorney's Office received 52 percent of those cases referred by the Tulsa County DA's office

“Prior to McGirt, we'd do about 200 indictments a year," said Clinton Johnson, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. "I think we're on track to do something close to 600 to 650 this year.”

Johnson said they’ve increased their staff by about 55 percent since McGirt, including 24 new federal prosecutors sworn in last week. And, as the report shows, some cases are taking priority.

“Because of our resources, we’ve had to triage cases," Johnson said. "And when we triage those cases our first concern is violent felonies, felonies against children, gun crimes and things of that nature.”

But where does that leave the other cases?

“It seems like the smaller, the traffic crimes, or misdemeanor drug offenses, or, honestly, even misdemeanor domestic violence cases, that appears to be falling through the cracks," Ellis said.

Johnson said some of those cases are being referred to the tribes. The report shows Cherokee Nation is indicting non-felony cases at a higher rate than U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Those other cases are also not going unprosecuted," Johnson said. "They're going to the tribes right now. We're referring those cases, property crimes and things of that nature, to the two tribes in my district that are affected by the decision, which is the Muscogee Nation and the Cherokee Nation.”

You can view the McGirt v Oklahoma Victim Impact Report here.

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