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  • Writer's pictureKyle Persaud

The latest Supreme Court decision on Indian lands in Oklahoma

Two years ago, in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court held that most of eastern Oklahoma (including all of Bartlesville) is an Indian reservation. Because of this, the Court held that only the federal government (and not the state government) may prosecute Indians for “major” crimes committed within any of the land designated as an Indian reservation.

To read my blog post about the McGirt ruling, click here.

Yesterday, the Court made another ruling on who has jurisdiction over Indian-related crimes. In Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, the defendant was not an Indian, but the victim was. The defendant had been convicted in state court. He argued that his conviction was invalid because he contended that only the federal government should be allowed to prosecute crimes where the victim is Indian.

The Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s argument. The Court held as follows:

  • McGirt would remain in effect, and only the federal government (not the state government) may prosecute major crimes where the defendant is Indian.

  • But, if the victim is Indian but the defendant is not Indian, the federal and state governments have “concurrent” jurisdiction to prosecute the offense. Thus, either the federal government or the state government may prosecute if the defendant is not Indian but the victim is.

To read the Court’s decision in Castro-Huerta, click here.

To see which Oklahoma lands are part of Indian reservations, and which tribe holds sovereignty over each area, click on the map here.



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