US Attorneys: OK vs. Castro-Huerta decision

TULSA, Okla. – In a joint release today, United States Attorneys’ in regard to United States Supreme Court Decision in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta said:

This morning the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. This decision holds that the State of Oklahoma has concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indian victims within Indian Country.

“Today’s decision does not diminish the United States’ trust responsibility to our tribal partners,” said United States Attorneys Christopher J. Wilson, Clinton J. Johnson, and Robert J. Troester. “The United States Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma will continue to enforce federal law in Indian Country. We will also continue to coordinate and cooperate with our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners as well as state and tribal prosecutors to promote public safety and provide justice to all Oklahomans in Indian Country.”

To read the syllabus prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, click here.

The Court Held: “The Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. Pp. 4–25. (a) The jurisdictional dispute in this case arises because Oklahoma’s territory includes Indian country. In the early Republic, the Federal Government sometimes treated Indian country as separate from state territory. See Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515. But that view has long since been abandoned. Organized Village of Kake v. Egan, 369 U. S. 60, 72. And the Court has specifically held that States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against non-Indians in Indian country. United States v. McBratney, 104 U. S. 621; see 2 OKLAHOMA v. CASTRO-HUERTA Syllabus also Draper v. United States, 164 U. S. 240, 244–247. Accordingly, States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed in Indian country unless preempted. Pp. 4–6. (b) Under Court precedent, a State’s jurisdiction in Indian country may be preempted by federal law under ordinary principles of federal preemption, or when the exercise of state jurisdiction would unlawfully infringe on tribal self-government. Neither serves to preempt state jurisdiction in this case. Pp. 6–20.

(1) Castro-Huerta points to two federal laws—the General Crimes Act and Public Law 280—that, in his view, preempt Oklahoma’s authority to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. Neither statute, however, preempts the State’s jurisdiction. Pp. 7–18. (i) The General Crimes Act does not preempt state authority to prosecute Castro-Huerta’s crime. It provides that “the general laws of the United States as to the punishment of offenses committed . . .within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States . . . shall extend to the Indian country.” 18 U. S. C. §1152. By its terms, the Act simply “extend[s]” the federal laws that apply on federal enclaves to Indian country. The Act does not say that Indian country is equivalent to a federal enclave for jurisdictional purposes, that federal jurisdiction is exclusive in Indian country, or that state jurisdiction is preempted in Indian country.

To read more of the syllabus prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, click here.

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