New hearing set in criminal jurisdiction case

Derrick James, McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
·2 min read

Mar. 23—A new hearing date has been set for a Latimer County judge to rule whether the state had criminal jurisdiction in a case accusing a Native American man of sex crimes against a child.

District 16 Associate District Judge Bill Welch set the new date for 3 p.m. April 7 after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals extended the deadline to April 22 for a ruling to be made in the case.

The deadline was extended after Welch asked the Appeals Court for clarification on a remand order issued in January.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case against 80-year-old Keith Elmo Davis and asked Welch to address Davis' application for post-conviction relief "specifically his claim that the state lacked jurisdiction to charge, try, and convict him because the crime occurred on the Choctaw Reservation and that he is an Indian."

Davis was found guilty by a Latimer County jury in 2005 on one count of forcible sodomy and one count of lewd of indecent proposal to a child under 16 and was sentenced to consecutive 20 and 15-year sentences in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for the crimes, according to court documents.

The Appeals Court originally affirmed a 2019 Latimer County judge's decision to deny Davis' post-conviction relief after he contended the state did not have jurisdiction to prosecute him due to his status as a Native American and the crime occurring within historical boundaries of the Choctaw Nation.

Court records show the U.S. Supreme Court granted Davis a writ of certiorari the same day as the landmark McGirt decision, which vacated a decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded the case back to OCCA "for further consideration in light of McGirt v. Oklahoma."

The Supreme Court ruled in July 2020 that Congress never "disestablished" the reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and overturned the state conviction of Jimcy McGirt, who was retried in federal court and found guilty in November 2020.

After the Supreme Court's mandate, the Oklahoma Appeals Court remanded the case back to Latimer County for an evidentiary hearing held in November 2020 to rule on Davis' Native American status and to rule whether the Choctaw Nation's reservation status was still intact.

Welch ruled in December 2020 that the Choctaw Nation was never disestablished by Congress and that Davis was 3/16 Cherokee and an enrolled member of the tribe.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in early March that the analysis behind the Supreme Court's decision in McGirt applied to the Muskogee (Creek), Chickasaw, and Cherokee Nations, stating that the federal government has criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans that commit crimes within the three tribe's boundaries.

A timeline for when the court will make a decision for the Choctaw and Seminole Nations is unknown.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com