Tenth Circuit Decides Seminole Indian Country Habeas Appeal (Effectively Reversing Oklahoma Criminal COA)

Here are the materials in Magnan v. Trammell:

CA10 Opinion

Magnan Opening Brief

Seminole Tribe Amicus

Oklahoma Answer Brief

Magnan Reply Brief

An excerpt:

Petitioner David Magnan pleaded guilty in Oklahoma state court to three counts of murder in the first degree and one count of shooting with intent to kill. Magnan was sentenced to  death for each of the murder convictions and to a term of life imprisonment on the remaining conviction. Magnan argued on direct review that the crimes occurred in “Indian country,” 18 U.S.C. § 1151, and that, as a result, the state trial court lacked jurisdiction  over the crimes. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) held, however, that a  1970 conveyance to the Housing Authority of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma extinguished all Indian lands restrictions that had previously attached to the surface estate of the property where the crimes occurred. The OCCA further held that, even assuming that restrictions remained on 4/5ths of the mineral estate, such interest wasunobservable and insufficient to deprive the State of Oklahoma of criminal jurisdiction over the surface property at issue. In a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Magnan again asserted that the crimes at issue occurred in “Indian country” and that the state trial court was without jurisdiction. The district court denied Magnan’s petition but granted him a certificate of appealability. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we need only address the status of the surface estate to agree with Magnan that the location where the crimes occurred was “Indian country” because the requirements to extinguish the restrictions placed on Indian lands by Congress were not met and that, as a result, the state trial court lacked jurisdiction over the crimes. Consequently, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to grant Magnan’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.

State court decision, with our commentary, here.

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!:

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