After the decision, the criminal justice system undergoes another change | New

Jeannie Blalock was an energetic grandmother in her 60s who loved sports when she was shot dead during a carjacking in the parking lot of her apartment complex in Tulsa in 2017.

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has charged four people in connection with Blalock’s death. Jaydon Harring and Tonnako Miller, both teenagers at the time of Blalock’s murder, pleaded guilty to murder and were sentenced to life in prison.

But Harring and Miller both challenged their convictions in 2021 and 2022, arguing that the state lacked the power to prosecute them because Blalock was a citizen of the Muscogee Nation and they were not Indigenous.

The 2020 U.S. Supreme Court McGirt decision ruled that nearly half of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, was tribal land, wiping out the state’s ability to prosecute many crimes.

For Blalock’s family, it was yet another delay in justice.

“We haven’t been able to rest for five years,” said his son Sherman Blalock.

Even before the McGirt ruling complicated the jurisdiction surrounding his mother’s case, Sherman said he was frustrated with Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.

But Harring and Miller will remain in state custody after the Supreme Court released the Castro-Huerta decision in June, giving the state concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute non-natives when they commit crimes against natives. on reserve land.

After the new ruling, local district attorneys are gearing up to resume cases that they believe were not charged by federal authorities.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who was highly critical of the McGirt decision, pointed to Blalock’s case.

The state court, however, never ruled on Harring’s motion to dismiss and, in fact, delayed the hearing until the Castro-Huerta decision was released in June by the United States Supreme Court. United States.

Miller’s motion to dismiss was denied in September 2021 after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that McGirt did not apply retroactively.

But it’s unclear how many cases Tulsa County will recover after the ruling.

“I’m going to want to make sure people are held accountable for their wrongful conduct,” Kunzweiler said.

There is little data on how many cases Oklahoma prosecutors will take over from federal authorities after the Castro-Huerta decision. Kunzweiler acknowledged that he doesn’t know how many cases his office is prepared to pursue.

An April article published in the Atlantic by KOSU and co-authored by Rebecca Nagle showed that fewer than a thousand cases have been affected by the McGirt decision since it was issued in July 2020.

Kunzweiler claimed that federal authorities dropped some criminal cases after the McGirt ruling and many crimes were not being prosecuted.

According to a study commissioned by Kunzweiler’s office, federal prosecutors were prosecuting less than a third of criminal cases after the McGirt ruling.

But the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa disputes the study’s numbers, as does Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill.

Federal prosecutors say no cases have been prosecuted and tribal courts have seized cases not handled by U.S. prosecutors.

After the McGirt decision, Oklahoma’s five tribes strengthened their criminal justice system, spending millions of dollars to hire more prosecutors, judges and tribal police.

The need for more federal funding for tribal law enforcement did not go away with the Castro-Huerta decision.

“Nothing about it says the tribe can’t prosecute Indians or that reservations have been reduced in any way,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said. “The work of our prosecutor’s office will look exactly the same tomorrow as it did yesterday. There really is no difference in the work we do.“

These additional resources will be essential when the new law on violence against women comes into force in October.

Federal law gives tribes more authority over non-natives on tribal lands for crimes like sexual assault, child abuse, harassment, and sex trafficking in addition to crimes of domestic violence.

Federal authorities will begin referring cases to tribes for prosecution under new violence against women provisions later this year. Kunzweiler wants more help prosecuting domestic violence cases.

“If I now have an additional resource where the tribal authorities will take over these cases and aggressively pursue them, and we could handle these cases jointly, that’s great,” Kunzweiler said. “That’s the kind of relationship I wish I could have.”

Weeks after the Castro-Huerta ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor issued a directive for prosecutors and law enforcement on the changing criminal justice landscape. in Oklahoma, stating that “law enforcement officers should give their respective district attorneys the opportunity to prosecute any non-Indian criminal defendant first, before such a case is referred to the federal government for prosecution .

Now that the state has concurrent jurisdiction over criminal crimes committed by non-Natives, the question remains whether that jurisdiction will increase safety on Oklahoma’s six reservations.

Hill said his office would keep moving forward.

“No decision will reduce the tribes to dust,” she said.