The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Magnan v. Trammell on Friday, June 14, 2013.
On March 3, 2004, James Howard and Karen Wolf were shot to death at a house in rural Seminole County, Oklahoma. Two other people, Lucilla McGirt and Eric Coley, were shot and wounded at the house. McGirt died approximately two weeks later from complications of her gunshot wounds. Coley survived his injuries. All of the victims except Howard were enrolled members of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
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 was unobservable 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 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.
The Tenth Circuit only addressed the status of the surface estate and agreed with Magnan that the location where the crimes occurred was “Indian country” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151. 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. As a result, the state trial court lacked jurisdiction over the crimes. The federal government had exclusive criminal jurisdiction over his crimes pursuant to the Indian Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153.
Consequently, the Tenth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded with instructions to grant Magnan’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.