OKLAHOMA CITY — A McClain County district judge ruled Tuesday that death-row inmate Shaun Michael Bosse was wrongly tried in state court because the crime was committed on the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation and the victims were members of the tribe.
“This Court finds that Congress established a reservation for the Chickasaw Nation, and Congress never specifically erased those boundaries and disestablished the reservation,” Judge Leah Edwards wrote. “Therefore, the crime occurred in Indian Country.”
The ruling by Edwards was the first judicial recognition of the Chickasaw reservation in the wake of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in July that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was never disestablished.
State judges have ruled in other cases in recent weeks that the Cherokee, Choctaw and Seminole reservations were never disestablished. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to decide, possibly before the end of the year, whether to uphold those rulings and establish a standard for handling hundreds of cases affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Jimcy McGirt.
The state of Oklahoma is not contesting the positions of the four tribes that their reservations still exist and presented no evidence in the Bosse case to argue that the Chickasaw reservation was disestablished.
Nor did the state argue that the victims, Katrina Griffin and her children, Christian and Chasity, were not Indians; all were members of the Chickasaw Nation.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said Tuesday: "The case will now return to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. We have been in close communication with the United States Attorney and appreciate his assurance that Federal charges will be timely filed against the defendant (Bosse), in the event the court vacates his conviction.
“In the meantime, our hearts remain steadfast with the family who has been victimized by this man’s crimes. We will continue our efforts to see justice done."
It was widely expected that the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole reservations would gain judicial recognition after the Creek ruling because of the shared histories of the Five Tribes, which were forcibly relocated in the 1830s to what is now Oklahoma.
Their reservations comprise much of eastern Oklahoma; the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation includes all or part of 14 counties.
Tribal officials have been working with U.S. attorneys and the state Attorney General’s Office on plans to handle the inmates likely to win new trials and on prosecuting new crimes committed in Indian Country.
Under federal law, most major crimes involving Indian perpetrators or victims are tried in federal court, with some crimes tried in tribal courts.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has been hoping to use the Bosse case to establish that the state can have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government in cases where the perpetrator is a non-Indian, like Bosse.
Edwards did not address the argument, which Hunter has characterized as “novel” given the federal laws regarding jurisdiction over crimes involving Indians in Indian Country.
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