Oklahoma Ct. of Criminal Appeals Holds that Seminole Parcel Not Indian Country

In Magnan v. State, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that a parcel of land in which Seminole Indians retained 4/5 of mineral rights was still no longer Indian Country. The case is interesting for two reasons. First, the whole debate about Indian Country:

This Court considered a similar question in Murphy v. State, 2005 OK CR 25, 124 P.3d 1198.  In Murphy, a murder occurred on a state road that at one time had been Indian allotted land.  Over time, the surface estate on which the road was located, and 11/12ths of the mineral estate, had been conveyed to non-Indians.  Applying a contacts and interests analysis analogous to the familiar “minimum contacts” test set out in International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945), the Murphy court concluded that the Oklahoma’s contacts and interests in the surface property overwhelmed any fractional interest the Indian heir of the original allottee owned in the unseen mineral estate.  According to Murphy, that conclusion was necessary because allowing an unobservable fractional interest to control the enforcement of laws on the surface of a property would lead to a checkerboard of alternating jurisdictions that would seriously burden the administration of state and local governments.  Murphy, ¶¶ 42-43, 1206.  Murphy held, therefore, that a fractional interest in an unobservable mineral interest is a contact with the surface estate that is insufficient to deprive the State of Oklahoma of criminal jurisdiction.  Id. ¶ 42, 1206.

But more amazingly, the court had the benefit of a federal court case reaching the same outcome 10 years earlier regarding the same property!:

In this instance, although the restricted fractional interest is larger (4/5ths vs. 1/12th), under Murphy’s contacts and interests rationale even a 4/5ths fractional interest in the mineral estate is insufficient to deprive the State of criminal jurisdiction over the surface of the property at issue here. This result stems in large part from the unique circumstances of this particular property. Specifically, evidence introduced at the evidentiary hearing shows that another homicide had previously occurred on the property in 1998. In that case, United States v. Woods, No. CR-98-26-B (E.D. Okla.), federal authorities prosecuted the case as having occurred in Indian Country. Unlike Magnan, however, the defendant in Woods argued in federal district court that the property was not Indian Country.  The federal district court agreed and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.  Key to the federal court’s determination that the property was not Indian Country was its finding that Indian land restrictions on the property had been extinguished by Kizzie Tiger Wolf’s 1970 conveyance of the surface rights to a non-Indian (i.e., the Seminole Nation Housing Authority).

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