O'Connor urges quick action to keep Castro-Huerta behind bars

The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is racing to get Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta back into state custody, worried that the subject of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case could be released and even deported next week.

In a brief filed late Monday, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to reinstate Castro-Huerta’s state conviction as soon as possible “so that the State may reacquire custody of him before federal authorities are forced to release him.”

Castro-Huerta’s state conviction for child neglect was one of several reversed under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2020 in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which has led to six tribal reservations being reaffirmed. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled last year that Castro-Huerta was improperly tried in state court because the victim was a Native American and the crime occurred on the Cherokee reservation.

More: Tribal leaders, legal experts weigh next moves after Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta ruling

After the reversal, the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of Oklahoma, based in Tulsa, filed federal charges against Castro-Huerta, a Mexican national, and reached a plea agreement with a seven-year sentence. He is scheduled to be formally sentenced on Aug. 8.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month reversed the decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in Castro-Huerta’s case, ruling that the state shares criminal jurisdiction on tribal reservations when the accused is a non-Indian and the victim is Native American.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals received the Supreme Court’s order and mandate on Monday and must reconsider its decision in Castro-Huerta’s case based on the new high court ruling on concurrent jurisdiction.

O'Connor told the state appeals court on Monday, “The United States Attorneys Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma believes it likely that (Castro-Huerta) has discharged his seven-year sentence, in which case they will be forced to either release him outright or release him to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation to Mexico."

Tribal chief: Castro-Huerta ruling is an alarming affront to our sovereignty, safety

Castro-Huerta had served less than six years of 35-year sentence when his conviction was overturned

The attorney general said the Supreme Court’s ruling “automatically reinstated” Castro-Huerta’s judgment and sentence but that the state “believes it prudent” to get an order formally reinstating the conviction before taking custody of him.

Castro-Huerta received a 35-year sentence in Tulsa County and had served less than six years of that when his state conviction was overturned.

U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson, in Oklahoma's northern district, told a federal judge on Monday that Castro-Huerta “is currently subject to only one sentence: the federal term to be imposed in this case.”

Johnson said Castro-Huerta should be sentenced to the seven-year term that is part of his federal plea deal, with credit given for the time he has served in state and federal custody since Dec. 14, 2015.

More: Oklahoma AG pushes for more state prosecutions in Indian country

According to Johnson’s brief, the U.S. attorney’s office and Castro-Huerta agreed previously that if the state conviction is reinstated, the “federal sentence should run concurrently with his state sentence and the Court could recommend a non-federal place of confinement for the duration of the federal sentence.”

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor
Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor

Chad Johnson, the attorney handling Castro-Huerta's state case, filed a brief Tuesday objecting to O'Connor's request for reinstatement of the state convictions and arguing that it would be "unlawful" for the state to take custody of Castro-Huerta. The attorney said the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had issued a mandate after reversing Castro-Huerta's conviction in 2021 and that appeals courts can only recall mandates in extraordinary circumstances and as a last resort.

The Supreme Court's decision in the Castro-Huerta case last month immediately impacted several other similar cases in which a non-Indian's conviction was overturned for a crime against a Native American on one of the reservations in Oklahoma. Federal prosecutors had already filed charges in those cases as well, meaning there will be more sorting out required.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma AG seeks quick action in Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta case