In 2015, Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta was charged by the State of Oklahoma for child neglect. Castro-Huerta was convicted in state court and sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment. While Castro- Huerta’s state court appeal was pending, this Court decided McGirt. There, we held that the Creek Nation’s reservation in eastern Oklahoma had never been properly disestablished and therefore remained Indian country.
In light of McGirt, the eastern part of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, is recognized as Indian country. Following this development, Castro- Huerta argued that the Federal Government had exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute him (a non-Indian) for a crime committed against his step-daughter (a Cherokee Indian) in Tulsa (Indian country), and that the State therefore lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and vacated his conviction. This Court granted certiorari to determine the extent of a State’s jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.
We hold that the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.
A. Indian Country is part of a State’s territory
In the early years of the Republic, the Federal Government sometimes treated Indian country as separate from state territory—in the same way that, for example, New Jersey is separate from New York. Most prominently, in the 1832 decision in Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, this Court held that Georgia state law had no force in the Cherokee Nation because the Cherokee Nation is a distinct community occupying its own territory.
However, by 1880, the Court no longer viewed reservations as distinct nations. Since the latter half of the 1800s, the Court has consistently and explicitly held that Indian reservations are part of the surrounding State and subject to the State’s jurisdiction except as forbidden by federal law.
This Court’s more recent cases have recognized the rights of States, absent a congressional prohibition, to exercise criminal (and, implicitly, civil) jurisdiction over non-Indians located on reservation lands. In short, the Court’s precedents establish that Indian country is part of a State’s territory and that, unless preempted, States have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Indian country.
Under the Court’s precedents, a State’s jurisdiction in Indian country may be preempted (i) by federal law under ordinary principles of federal preemption, or (ii) when the exercise of state jurisdiction would unlawfully infringe on tribal self-government. There is no preemption here.
B1. Federal law preemption
B1A – General Crimes Act
The General Crimes Act provides: “Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, the general laws of the United States as to the punishment of offenses committed in any place within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, except the District of Columbia, shall extend to the Indian country.” 18 U. S. C. §1152.
By its terms, the Act does not preempt the State’s authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian country. The text of the Act simply extends federal law to Indian country, leaving untouched the background principle of state jurisdiction over crimes committed within the State, including in Indian country.
Under the General Crimes Act, therefore, both the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed in Indian country.
B1B. Public Law 280
Public Law 280 affirmatively grants certain States broad jurisdiction to prosecute state-law offenses committed by or against Indians in Indian country. See 18 U. S. C. §1162. (Other States may opt in, with tribal consent. 25 U. S. C. §1321.) But Public Law 280 does not preempt any preexisting or otherwise lawfully assumed jurisdiction that States possess to prosecute crimes in Indian country.
Public Law 280 does not preempt state authority to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.
B2. State jurisdiction infringing on tribal self-government
First, the exercise of state jurisdiction here would not infringe on tribal self-government. In particular, a state prosecution of a crime committed by a non-Indian against an Indian would not deprive the tribe of any of its prosecutorial authority. That is because, with exceptions not invoked here, Indian tribes lack criminal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians such as Castro-Huerta, even when non-Indians commit crimes against Indians in Indian country.
Second, a state prosecution of a non-Indian likewise would not harm the federal interest in protecting Indian victims. State prosecution would supplement federal authority, not supplant federal authority. As the United States has explained in the past, recognition of concurrent state jurisdiction could facilitate effective law enforcement on the Reservation, and thereby further the federal and tribal interests in protecting Indians and their property against the actions of non-Indians.
Third, the State has a strong sovereign interest in ensuring public safety and criminal justice within its territory, and in protecting all crime victims. The State also has a strong interest in ensuring that criminal offenders—especially violent offenders—are appropriately punished and do not harm others in the State.
The State’s interest in protecting crime victims includes both Indian and non-Indian victims. If his victim were a non-Indian, Castro-Huerta could be prosecuted by the State, as he acknowledges. But because his victim is an Indian, Castro-Huerta says that he is free from state prosecution. Castro-Huerta’s argument would require this Court to treat Indian victims as second-class citizens. We decline to do so.
We conclude that the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.