Delaware County District Attorney Kenny Wright faces the first repercussion of the Supreme Court's McGirt decision during a trial set in district court on Oct. 14.
According to Wright, the July US Supreme Court's McGirt decision means as many as 2,000 to 3,000 cases in Delaware County may be overturned. He called the issue a "public safety disaster."
The July Supreme Court decision ruled that the state of Oklahoma does not have the authority over tribe members who perpetrate crimes or are the victims of crimes within the boundaries of the Creek Nation.
The same will be true for the nations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminoles. The Supreme Court ruling states that only the federal government, the Indian Nations, or both can prosecute members of federally recognized Native American tribes for major crimes arising within the 1866 treaty areas.
Just as a person can be charged in both federal and state courts, under the McGirt decision native Americans can face trials at both the federal and Indian court levels, but not the state level.
On Oct. 14, the district court will hear the appeal of Samantha Perales, who was convicted in 2018 of a 2015 vehicular manslaughter case including the possession of a controlled substance. She is serving a life plus 11-year sentence in state prison. Her appeal tests the argument that the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to try the offense.
A district court jury found Perales guilty of driving her truck under the influence of methamphetamine near Kansas, Oklahoma. She was driving with a license that had expired six years prior to the accident. She was convicted of crossing the center line and striking a vehicle driven by Amberly Bradley who died at the scene of the accident. Perales had a number of other run-ins with the law including being charged with at least 10 criminal misdemeanors and 10 traffic tickets.
According to Wright, if the court rules in Perales' favor, the state will appeal the decision. But he says if it is ruled that she was tried inappropriately, she may not face any punishment because the five-year statute of limitations has passed on her case.
If that happens, Wright expects that there are literally thousands of other Native Americans convicted of various offenses who are still in prison who will petition for release on the same basis. Wright's desk is already stacked with a number of those cases.
Wright says that even traffic tickets may be affected. If a traffic ticket is issued to a Native American tribe member, the member must be prosecuted in an Indian tribe court rather than a city court. Not only will that overwhelm the current Indian Court structures, but it will mean loss of revenue for cities and towns.
Wright estimates that it will take millions of dollars maybe even a billion dollars for these five tribes to build a parallel court system to include prisons, courthouses, juvenile detention facilities and personnel to staff the entire judicial system. In addition, the federal District Attorneys offices will need to add to their staffs to prosecute major crimes that previously have been tried in state district courts.