“Castro-Huerta’s argument would require this Court to treat Indian victims as second-class citizens. We decline to do so.”
The Supreme Court that Oklahoma and other states can prosecute crimes against Native Americans by non-Native Americans on Native American land.
SCOTUS ruled 5-4.
The decision somewhat rolls back the 2020 decision, McGirt vs. Oklahoma, that recognized the eastern half of the state, which includes Tulsa, as an Indian reservation. The area has about two million people and the majority are not Native Americans. It also limited the authority of state prosecutors.
Oklahoma lost “hundreds of criminal cases” due to that decision.
At the heart of the McGirt case was Jimcy McGirt, who was convicted in an Oklahoma state court of three serious sexual offenses.” McGirt claimed Oklahoma couldn’t do anything because “he is an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation and his crimes took place on the Creek Reservation.”
The case before SCOTUS was Oklahoma vs. Castro-Huerta. It is important to note that the petitioner is not a Native American:
In Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, the state argued federal and tribal jurisdictions lack the capacity to handle a deluge of cases now under their responsibility, and dozens of violent crimes have gone unpunished because federal statutes of limitation expired, witnesses died or evidence vanished.
The case involved Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Indian who was sentenced to 35 years by a Tulsa state court for criminal neglect of his 5-year-old, disabled stepdaughter. A state appeals court threw out the conviction because the stepdaughter is an Indian. Citing the McGirt rule, the state court transferred the case to federal prosecutors who reached a plea bargain with Mr. Castro-Huerta: seven years in prison, followed by deportation to Mexico.
Mr. Castro-Huerta’s lawyer, Zachary Schauf, said Congress established the legal framework for Indian reservations to promote peace on the frontier in the 19th century. The Biden administration took the position that the state lacks authority over Indian country cases involving Indian victims. Justice Samuel Alito, calling the government’s legal arguments “awfully abstract,” asked whether the avalanche of cases in federal court was sustainable.
The decision is only about Castro-Huerta, not his Native American wife. Both were convicted.
In the opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh states “the Constitution allows a State to exercise jurisdiction in Indian country” because “Indian country is part of the State, not separate from the State.” He points to the 10th Amendment.
However, “federal law may preempt that state jurisdiction in certain circumstances.” But mostly the “State has jurisdiction over all of its territory, including Indian territory.”
First, the exercise of state jurisdiction here would not infringe on tribal self-government. In particular, a state prosecution of a crime committed by a non-Indian against an Indian would not deprive the tribe of any of its prosecutorial authority. That is because, with exceptions not invoked here, Indian tribes lack criminal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians such as Castro-Huerta, even when non-Indians commit crimes against Indians in Indian country. See Oliphant v. Suquamish Tribe, 435 U. S. 191, 195 (1978).
Moreover, a state prosecution of a non-Indian does not involve the exercise of state power over any Indian or over any tribe. The only parties to the criminal case are the State and the non-Indian defendant. Therefore, as has been recognized, any tribal self-government “justification for preemption of state jurisdiction” would be “problematic.” American Indian Law Deskbook §4.8, at 260; see Three Affiliated Tribes, 467 U. S., at 148; see also Hicks, 533 U. S., at 364; McBratney, 104 U. S., at 623–624; Draper, 164 U. S., at 242–243.6
Kavanaugh also concludes “a state prosecution of a non-Indian likewise would not harm the federal harm the federal interest in protecting Indian victims.”
Plus, “the State has a strong sovereign interest in ensuring public safety and criminal justice within its territory, and in protecting all crime victims.”
The mic drop (emphasis mine):
The State’s interest in protecting crime victims includes both Indian and non-Indian victims. If his victim were a non-Indian, Castro-Huerta could be prosecuted by the State, as he acknowledges. But because his victim is an Indian, Castro-Huerta says that he is free from state prosecution. Castro-Huerta’s argument would require this Court to treat Indian victims as second-class citizens. We decline to do so.
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