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Date: 06-29-2022

Case Style:

State of Oklahoma v. Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta

Case Number: 21-429

Judge: Kavanaugh

Court: Supreme Court of the United States on cert. from the Tenth Circuit on appeal from the Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: Oklahoma Attorney General's Office

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Tulsa, Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with sexual abuse of a minor in Indian Country.

This case presents a jurisdictional question about the
prosecution of crimes committed by non-Indians against In-
dians in Indian country: Under current federal law, does
the Federal Government have exclusive jurisdiction to pros-
ecute those crimes? Or do the Federal Government and the
State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute those
crimes? We conclude that the Federal Government and the
State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes com-
mitted by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.
In 2015, Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta lived in Tulsa, Ok-
lahoma, with his wife and their several children, including
Castro-Huerta’s then-5-year-old stepdaughter, who is a
Cherokee Indian. The stepdaughter has cerebral palsy and
is legally blind. One day in 2015, Castro-Huerta’s sister-in-
law was in the house and noticed that the young girl was
sick. After a 911 call, the girl was rushed to a Tulsa hospi-
tal in critical condition. Dehydrated, emaciated, and cov-
ered in lice and excrement, she weighed only 19 pounds. In-
vestigators later found her bed filled with bedbugs and
When questioned, Castro-Huerta admitted that he had
severely undernourished his stepdaughter during the pre-
ceding month. The State of Oklahoma criminally charged
both Castro-Huerta and his wife for child neglect. Both
were convicted. Castro-Huerta was sentenced to 35 years
of imprisonment, with the possibility of parole. This case
concerns the State’s prosecution of Castro-Huerta.
After Castro-Huerta was convicted and while his appeal
was pending in state court, this Court decided McGirt v.
Oklahoma, 591 U. S. ___ (2020). In McGirt, the Court held
that Congress had never properly disestablished the Creek
Nation’s reservation in eastern Oklahoma. As a result, the
Court concluded that the Creek Reservation remained “In-
dian country.” Id., at ___–___, ___, ___ (slip op., at 1–3, 17,
28). The status of that part of Oklahoma as Indian country
meant that different jurisdictional rules might apply for the
prosecution of criminal offenses in that area. See 18
U. S. C. §§1151–1153. Based on McGirt’s reasoning, the
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later recognized that
several other Indian reservations in Oklahoma had like-
wise never been properly disestablished. See, e.g., State
ex rel. Matloff v. Wallace, 2021 OK CR 21, ¶15, 497 P. 3d
686, 689 (reaffirming recognition of the Cherokee, Choctaw,
and Chickasaw Reservations); Grayson v. State, 2021 OK
CR 8, ¶10, 485 P. 3d 250, 254 (Seminole Reservation).
In light of McGirt and the follow-on cases, the eastern
part of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, is now recognized as In-
dian country. About two million people live there, and the
vast majority are not Indians.
The classification of eastern Oklahoma as Indian country
has raised urgent questions about which government or
governments have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes commit-
ted there. This case is an example: a crime committed in
what is now recognized as Indian country (Tulsa) by a non-Indian (Castro-Huerta) against an Indian (his stepdaugh-
ter). All agree that the Federal Government has jurisdic-
tion to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against
Indians in Indian country. The question is whether the
Federal Government’s jurisdiction is exclusive, or whether
the State also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal
In the wake of McGirt, Castro-Huerta argued that the
Federal Government’s jurisdiction to prosecute crimes com-
mitted by a non-Indian against an Indian in Indian country
is exclusive and that the State therefore lacked jurisdiction
to prosecute him. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Ap-
peals agreed with Castro-Huerta. Relying on an earlier Ok-
lahoma decision holding that the federal General Crimes
Act grants the Federal Government exclusive jurisdiction,
the court ruled that the State did not have concurrent ju-
risdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians
against Indians in Indian country. The court therefore va-
cated Castro-Huerta’s conviction. No. F–2017–1203 (Apr.
29, 2021); see also Bosse v. State, 2021 OK CR 3, 484 P. 3d
286; Roth v. State, 2021 OK CR 27, 499 P. 3d 23.
While Castro-Huerta’s state appellate proceedings were
ongoing, a federal grand jury in Oklahoma indicted Castro-
Huerta for the same conduct. Castro-Huerta accepted a
plea agreement for a 7-year sentence followed by removal
from the United States. (Castro-Huerta is not a U. S. citi-
zen and is unlawfully in the United States.) In other words,
putting aside parole possibilities, Castro-Huerta in effect
received a 28-year reduction of his sentence as a result of
Castro-Huerta’s case exemplifies a now-familiar pattern
in Oklahoma in the wake of McGirt. The Oklahoma courts
have reversed numerous state convictions on that same ju-
risdictional ground. After having their state convictions re-
versed, some non-Indian criminals have received lighte
sentences in plea deals negotiated with the Federal Govern-
ment. Others have simply gone free. Going forward, the
State estimates that it will have to transfer prosecutorial
responsibility for more than 18,000 cases per year to the
Federal and Tribal Governments. All of this has created a
significant challenge for the Federal Government and for
the people of Oklahoma. At the end of fiscal year 2021, the
U. S. Department of Justice was opening only 22% and 31%
of all felony referrals in the Eastern and Northern Districts
of Oklahoma. Dept. of Justice, U. S. Attorneys, Fiscal Year
2023 Congressional Justification 46. And the Department
recently acknowledged that “many people may not be held
accountable for their criminal conduct due to resource con-
straints.” Ibid.
In light of the sudden significance of this jurisdictional
question for public safety and the criminal justice system in
Oklahoma, this Court granted certiorari to decide whether
a State has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Gov-
ernment to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians
against Indians in Indian country. 595 U. S. ___ (2022).1

* * *

Outcome: We conclude that the Federal Government and the State
have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed
by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. We
therefore reverse the judgment of the Oklahoma Court of
Criminal Appeals and remand the case for further proceed-
ings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


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