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Public Defender: Feds, Tribes Have Proven They're Up To The Challenge Of More Cases After McGirt

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A local attorney intimately familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma pushed back Thursday on Gov. Kevin Stitt and law enforcement officials’ claims the decision has imperiled public safety. 

Stitt has made no secret of his desire to have the landmark ruling overturned, citing detrimental impacts to public safety. In a panel discussion Thursday hosted by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Tulsa County public defender Kasey Baldwin, who oversees the office's handling of McGirt motions, said the chaos Stitt and other officials have cited is non-existent.

Baldwin said tribes and the U.S. Department of Justice have refiled cases in most state convictions that have been thrown out in the past year — including that of Jimcy McGirt, the Seminole Nation citizen who appealed his state sex crimes conviction all the way to the Supreme Court and is now in prison after a federal conviction — and are spending money to bolster their court systems.

"What is contributing to the perceived chaos, in my opinion, is the state's response to this. All counties are different, like I said, but there does seem to be a death grip by the state actors — the attorney general's office, the district attorneys, the governor — on cases that were formerly thought to be state jurisdiction cases. They do not want to let them go," Baldwin said.

Stitt and other state officials have leaned heavily on the notion they’re trying to protect victims’ rights by seeking to alter or overturn the McGirt ruling. Stitt's appointed attorney general, John O'Connor, said last week he will work to have it overturned.

Baldwin said victims may actually be better served by tribal or federal courts.

"In 2020, when you look at the felony domestic assault and battery cases that were filed in Tulsa County, 77% of those cases were dismissed," Baldwin said. "So, to say, 'No one can do it as well as we can, these victims are not going to get a fair shake,' I think is not accurate."

Baldwin said all post-conviction McGirt motions are currently stayed as the state seeks court rulings on whether they can share jurisdiction in some cases and whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision the state wrongly prosecuted Indian defendants for decades can be applied retroactively.

Baldwin said the Tulsa County Public Defender’s office has filed more than 900 McGirt motions so far.

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