COMANCHE NATION, Ok (KSWO) - The Comanche Nation Police Chief is sharing his thoughts on a capital murder case that happened on tribal land nearly 20 years ago.
Last August, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Patrick Murphy's murder conviction and death sentence determining he was unfairly tried in state court for the 1999 murder of George Jacobs. It happened on the Creek Nation in eastern Oklahoma.
The court determined that the Creek reservation was never disbanded and has threatened to throw into question not only Murphy's conviction but many others that occurred in east-central Oklahoma. Crimes committed on tribal land must be tried in federal court.
Chief Vernon Griffin said in today's society everyone looks at Indian Country as either being in trust or allotment, a dependent Indian community, or reservation area.
Chief Griffin said Patrick Murphy successfully argued that Congress had not Deregulated the Muscogee Creek reservation which allowed him to have his sentence set aside by the state. Although the 10th circuit has ruled in his favor, the state of Oklahoma is fighting the decision and has filed appeals to the Supreme Court.
"The argument is that the State of Oklahoma does not feel that it is Tribal Land, they believe that statehood had the right to take those lands and Congress at time could clearly define that by dissolving the reservation but it hasn't. It hasn't resolved any reservation in Oklahoma that I'm aware of," Chief Griffin said.
The Creek Nation land was established in 1866 as the Creek reservation.
"But we have Western tribes also that had reservation areas,"Chief Griffin said.
Tribal and State Police Departments are equally trained and go through the same academy, but when it comes to jurisdiction the rules are different.
Chief Vernon said under the Comanche Nation, they have 6,300 square miles checker boarded over 7 counties, from Anadarko to the Red River and from Altus to Duncan, within those 7 counties they have plots of land are around 160 acres that had tribal members at statehood.
"Our jurisdiction is defined within Indian Country and specially for us within the Jurisdiction of the Comanche Nation.We are also cross deputized with the Bureau of Indian Affairs which allows us at the request to assist them on other tribal lands," Chief Griffin said.
Tribal law and U.S. law as it pertains to Supreme Court and Creek Nation are also different.
"We also have within the nation the ability to make laws for the nation and we have our own tribal codes, which basically if you look at the state side it would be the misdemeanor codes," Chief Griffin said.
If the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court's ruling Chief Griffin said it could bring changes.
"Within the state of Oklahoma you have 39 tribes most of them I think all but 2 are reservation tribes so i could foresee the other 37 tribes also going to court to have their reservation defined and we are going to have to determine jurisdiction. I mean a jurisdiction is the biggest matter. If we have a we have crime we need to know where to take the jurisdiction too who needs to hear it and who has to prosecute it so that will have to be clearly defined," Chief Griffin said.
The ruling can also have a big impact economically.
"Because you get into taxation, collections of revenue, regulations companies that operate within Indian country that have to follow our regulation. If they are not in Indians Country they follow the states regulation so who is going to be regulated the situation," Chief Griffin said.
Chief Vernon said if Congress favors in the decision all major crimes in Indian Country will have to be heard by the state. The high court returns from summer recess in October.