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Oklahoma court rules McGirt decision doesn't apply to previous convictions

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Posted at 11:48 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 10:44:06-04

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma doesn't apply to past convictions.

The 2020 McGirt ruling determined much of eastern Oklahoma is still considered tribal land, changing the jurisdiction of criminal cases on that land or involving Native American individuals.

Thursday's ruling reverses the recent trend of previous convictions being overturned due to the jurisdiction changes.

"We hold today that McGirt v. Oklahoma announced a new rule of criminal procedure which we decline to apply retroactively in a state post conviction proceeding to void a FINAL conviction," the opinion of the court says.

See the full opinion:

The U.S. Attorneys offices in Oklahoma released a joint statement following the ruling:

This morning the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued its decision in State ex rel. Matloff v. Wallace holding the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma does not apply retroactively. The United States Attorney’s offices in Oklahoma are reviewing today’s OCCA opinion and assessing its potential impact on cases previously referred to the United States for potential federal criminal prosecution,” said Acting United States Attorneys Christopher Wilson, Clint Johnson and Robert Troester. “In the interim, our offices will continue to focus on our mission of ensuring public safety and holding defendants accountable for their criminal acts.”
United States Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern, Northern and Western Districts of Oklahoma

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and Gov. Kevin Stitt released statements on Thursday afternoon.

“This is a significant victory of the people of Oklahoma. I commend the judges who voted in agreement with our position,” Attorney General O’Connor said. “There are thousands of cases that would have to be retried if the State had lost this case. In many of those cases, the crimes were committed long ago. Witnesses may be gone. Evidence may be lost. Re-prosecution might be barred by statutes of limitations. That is why I appreciate the judges who stood up for the rule of law and protecting victims that would have been revictimized by another trial, and possibly revictimized if their abuser is set free.”

“This is a day where justice for some of the victims was restored. We are all safer because a significant number of perpetrators will remain behind bars. Make no mistake, McGirt will continue to have disastrous effects throughout the State even despite this latest ruling. But today is nonetheless an important victory for the people of Oklahoma.” - Attorney General O’Connor

“Today is a major win for victims of crime and public safety in Oklahoma. I am pleased that the Court agreed that retroactively applying McGirt to tens of thousands of cases would unnecessarily traumatize victims and give dangerous criminals opportunities to fall through the cracks. While today’s ruling is a significant step forward, McGirt still presents major challenges that threaten the future of Oklahoma. I will continue to work to protect the state’s sovereignty and ensure equal protection under the law for all 4 million Oklahomans.” - Gov. Stitt

Cherokee Nation responded to the opinion later Thursday evening:

"Today's OCCA decision examines legal questions regarding the status of past criminal convictions, and has affirmed the legal status of the Cherokee Nation's Reservation, and that of the Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation. As Oklahoma's governor rushes forward in an attempt to convince the Supreme Court to reverse last year's decision and break treaties and promises, Oklahoma's courts continue to work through the legal issues as they arise. The Cherokee Nation will continue to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to do the same."
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill

The Choctaw Nation also responded to the ruling:

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt was an important defense of tribal sovereignty and a reminder the federal government must honor its treaties. As we have said from the start – and as today’s ruling confirms – it did not mean convicted criminals would immediately be released, as some have claimed. All Five Tribes wrote in support of this decision, and we are pleased by the ruling. Most importantly, this is a positive result for the victims of crimes and their families, because in many cases it means they will avoid being re-victimized by new trials. We remain committed to prosecuting people who commit crimes on Indian land.”

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