US Supreme Court agrees Indian Country ruling not retroactive

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The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Oklahoma appellate court decision that the high court’s landmark McGirt ruling on criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country does not apply retroactively to state convictions that are finalized.

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of Clifton Parish, a member of the Choctaw Nation who argued the state did not have jurisdiction over him because the killing for which he was convicted happened on land within the tribe’s historic reservation.

The high court let stand a ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals that McGirt did not apply retroactively to criminal cases in which an inmate’s appeals have been exhausted.

“This is an important victory for the safety of victims, families of victims, and the people of Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement. “Victims and their families will not be required to relive their tragic experiences by testifying in new trials, or worse, seeing the perpetrators out in society.”

Parish, who is serving a 25-year sentence in state prison, was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2010 killing of Robert Strickland in Hugo. His public defender declined to comment on the court’s ruling.

In the McGirt case, the court ruled in 2020 that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation. The ruling applied to the Muscogee reservation but led to similar lower court rulings upholding the historic reservations of several other Native American tribes in Oklahoma, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole nations that cover nearly the entire eastern half of the state.

O’Connor and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt have fiercely criticized the McGirt decision, and both are urging the Supreme Court to overturn or limit the landmark ruling in several other cases pending before the court.

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