Royal v. Murphy

Filed on:

In September 2018, NIWRC had an interest in filing and began organizing to file an amicus brief in Royal v. Murphy, a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2018 Term. In August 1999, Patrick D. Murphy and his two friends, Billy Long and Kevin King, murdered and mutilated George Jacobs. In 2000, a jury in McIntosh County convicted Murphy of first-degree murder and imposed the death penalty. After two appeals, both denied by the OCCA and a federal district court, Murphy’s third appeal was accepted by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2020, the Tenth Circuit determined that the Creek Nation’s reservation had never been disestablished, and ultimately, found that the State of Oklahoma was without jurisdiction to criminally prosecute Murphy because his crime was against an Indian victim on tribal trust land within the border of the Creek Nation’s reservation. The Court has yet to issue a decision in Murphy v. Royal.

To reach this conclusion, the Tenth Circuit considered whether Congress showed explicit intent or language to disestablish the Muscogee Creeks’ 1886 tribal boundaries through the Creek Allotment Act of 1901 or any later acts related to the Tribe. The Court applied disestablishment criteria under Solem v. Bartlett 1984 and ruled that Congress hasn’t shown explicit intent or language to disestablish the Creek reservation through any Congressional act. The Court’s decision states that “Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction” to prosecute Murphy for a crime that happened in Indian Country – thus overturning his prior conviction and sentence on August 7, 2017. In May 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will review the Murphy case and both parties will argue, once again, if the Creek reservation has been diminished or disestablished in any way.

Although the Supreme Court’s analysis will most likely focus on the three-part test set out in Solem to determine whether the Creek Nation’s reservation has been disestablished, the Court’s determination of what gives rise to the disestablishment of a “reservation” under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a) will have significant implications for Tribal Nations seeking to utilize VAWA § 904’s restored tribal criminal jurisdiction to protect their citizens from non-Indian offenders. That is, the Court’s decision in Murphy could result in a decision that expands or severely limits the restored criminal jurisdiction of the area of land over which Tribal Nations may now exercise criminal jurisdiction under VAWA 904. The Supreme Court needs to hear the perspective of organizations and survivors working to end domestic violence and sexual assault against Native women, as the Court’s decision will likely have serious consequences for Tribal Nations seeking to protect their women and children from domestic violence and dating violence on tribal lands.