The Choctaw Nation continues to progress and succeed in a post-McGirt world
By Kendra Germany-Wall
May 1, 2022
April 1 marked the first anniversary of the Sizemore decision, which applied the US Supreme Court’s McGirt Ruling (2020) to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) and affirmed the sovereignty of the Five Tribes. As a result, CNO has worked to honor its responsibilities through various endeavors.
The McGirt ruling determined that Congress never disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) reservation when Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and that Jimcy McGirt, a felon convicted by the state, should have been prosecuted in federal court, not state court.
This argument is based on the 1885 Major Crimes Act, a federal law dictating that major crimes involving Native Americans in Indian Country be prosecuted in federal or tribal court.
Title 18 Section 1153 of the United States Code, known as the Major Crimes Act, grants tribes and the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute certain enumerated offenses committed by Indians within Indian Country. It reads in relevant part as follows:
“Any Indian who commits against the person or property of another Indian or other person any of the following offenses, namely, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, maiming, a felony under chapter 109A, incest, a felony assault under section 113, an assault against an individual who has not attained the age of 16 years, felony child abuse or neglect, arson, burglary, robbery, and a felony under section 661 of this title within the Indian country, shall be subject to the same law and penalties as all other persons committing any of the above offenses, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.”
The federal General Crime Act gives the government criminal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans who commit most crimes against Native American victims. The federal government also shares jurisdiction with tribal courts to prosecute Native Americans committing crimes against non-Native Americans.
The following information is an update of CNO’s response to the rulings.
Immediately following the ruling, CNO announced that it was prepared to file more than 125 cases in the District Court of the Choctaw Nation. In an historic move, CNO filed all 125 cases the same day to prevent any criminals from being released from custody.
In anticipation of the change in jurisdiction, the Choctaw Nation Tribal Prosecutor’s Office met with all District Attorney Offices within the Choctaw Nation’s reservation boundaries.
Since 2020, the Choctaw Tribal Courts have filed over 2,500 felony and misdemeanor cases.
The Choctaw Nation’s Tribal Prosecutor’s Office now includes six full-time Assistant Tribal Prosecutor positions and four legal clerks. These prosecutors will work to make state and federal agencies aware of criminal convictions and current protective orders issued by the Choctaw Nation District Court.
In preparation for the influx of cases, the court system invested in new case management software that interfaces with the Tribal Prosecutor’s Office and streamlines the filing process of new criminal cases.
In addition to criminal case identification, the Tribal Prosecutor’s Office has worked with the Department of Public Safety to provide virtual jurisdictional training to tribal, state and city law enforcement agencies on the impact of the McGirt decision. This training assists authorities with the identification and verification of appropriate jurisdiction for the cases being investigated.
The Choctaw Nation Court website includes information on e-filing, case records and contact information for the Choctaw Nation’s Judicial Branch and Office of the Tribal Prosecutor.
CNO also established the Choctaw Nation Public Defender’s Office and hired a Public Defender Director and three full-time public defenders.
On January 7, 2022, CNO appointed Amy J. Pierce as the first full-time district court judge for the Nation’s Judicial Branch.
An enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, Judge Pierce was most recently a partner at Hampton Barghols Pierce, PLLC in Oklahoma City. She also held positions at two other law firms in Oklahoma City. Judge Pierce earned her Juris Doctorate from Oklahoma City University after receiving her Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma State University. She also completed the Harvard Negotiation Institute program through Harvard Law School.
To date, the Supreme Court has declined to hear more than 30 cases filed by the State of Oklahoma seeking to overturn McGirt.
CNO has spent in excess of $24.8 million on direct and indirect expenses responding to McGirt to meet new responsibilities and ensure public safety across the reservation for all Oklahomans post-McGirt.
Many of CNO’s Tribal Codes have been updated to reflect a post-McGirt world. The Choctaw Nation Fish, Game and Animals Code was updated to allow tribal members to hunt and fish on Choctaw lands with their tribal ID in response to Governor Stitt’s decision not to renew the Hunting and Fishing compact.
View all of CNO’s tribal codes.
Things are constantly changing, and the Nation’s Judicial Branch is growing in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. The graphic at the bottom of this page shows the most recent post-McGirt statistics within the Choctaw Nation.
To stay up-to-date on tribal issues, follow Choctaw Nation on all social media platforms and check out choctawnation.com.
Post-McGirt Statistics (as of March 30, 2022)
- April 2020 – March 2021
Arrests – 104
- April 2021 – February 2022
Adult Arrests– 207
Juvenile Arrests (on scene) – 2
(Source: Captain Brant Henry, CNO Public Safety)
2020 – 22
2021 – 622
2022 (year-to-date)– 155
2020 – 39
2021 – 772
2022 (year-to-date) – 193
- Juvenile Delinquent
2020 – 0
2021 – 15
2022 (year-to-date) – 2
- Juvenile Deprived
2020 – 30
2021 – 43
2022 (year-to-date) – 7
2020 – 14
2021 – 803
2022 (year-to-date) – 269
(Source: Sandy Stroud, Court Administrator)
Special Domestic Violence Jurisdiction
Note: This is a subset of the total felony and misdemeanor cases filed.
- Tribal Domestic Violence Cases: 5
- VAWA Special Domestic Violence Jurisdiction: 1
- Tribal Domestic Violence Cases: 245
- VAWA Special Domestic Violence Jurisdiction: 84
(Source: Kara Baron, Tribal Prosecutor)
Civil Cases Filed
- General Civil
2020 – 20
2021 – 24
2022 – 4
2020 – 7
2021 – 16
2022 (year-to-date) – 4
2020 – 25
2021 – 36
2022 (year-to-date) – 6
2020 – 137
2021 – 177
2022 (year-to-date) – 38
2020 – 69
2021 – 101
2022 (year-to-date) – 15
- Protective Orders
2020 – 37
2021 – 152
2022 (year-to-date) – 39
(Source: Sandy Stroud, Court Administrator)
Cross Deputization Agreements
CNO currently has 75 active cross deputization agreements with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
(Source: R.D. Hendrix, CNO Public Safety)
Post-McGirt Additional Staff Authorized by Department
Assistant Prosecutor – 7 (4 of 7 are BIA-funded)
Probation Officers – 5
Transport Officer – 4
Bailiff – 2
Public Defender – 1
Assistant Public Defender – 3 (2 of 3 are BIA-funded)
Judiciary Clerk – 1
Judiciary Clerk (BIA-funded) – 1
Court Deputy Clerk – 2
Court Deputy Clerk (BIA-funded) – 2
Court Reporter – 1
Court Coordinator – 1
Tribal Police Officers – 38
Sergeants – 4
Criminal Investigator Sergeant – 1
Criminal Investigator Detective – 3
Domestic Violence Investigator – 1
Tribal Police Trainer – 1
Tribal Police Analyst – 0
Law Enforcement IT – 0
ICW (various positions) – 37
Legal Assistants – 4
Witness Coordinator – 3 (2 of 3 are BIA-funded and 1 is grant-funded)
Juvenile Services Social Workers – 7
Special District Circuit Judge – 1
Presiding District Judge – 1
Warrant Clerk – 2
File Clerk – 1
Total Staff: 133