Oklahoma appeals court reinstates Castro-Huerta sentence

·3 min read

Aug. 4—Oklahoma's appeals court on Thursday ordered the reinstatement of the 35-year state prison sentence of Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, who could now face a longer federal prison sentence.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate its previous opinion that dismissed Castro-Huerta's 35-year prison sentence for child neglect based on the court's analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

Castro-Huerta was originally convicted and sentenced in 2015 to 35 years in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for child neglect.

State appellate judges vacated the conviction because the victim was Native American. Federal prosecutors later indicted him with child neglect.

Castro-Huerta accepted a plea deal of seven-years federal imprisonment with credit for time served in state custody. State prosecutors wanted Castro-Huerta to serve the remainder of his state sentence due to the nature of the crime and said he could be released from federal custody as soon as Aug. 8.

OCCA on Thursday set aside its previous opinion and withdrew its original mandate that overturned Castro-Huerta's state conviction.

U.S. Attorneys for the Northern District of Oklahoma explained in a filing this week that the plea deal had two sentencing options depending on if Castro-Huerta's state sentence was reinstated.

The first option includes credit for time served since Dec. 14, 2015.

A second sentencing option stipulates if the Oklahoma sentence was reinstated, Castro-Huerta's federal sentence should run concurrently with his state sentence.

U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan on Thursday continued Castro-Huerta's Aug. 8 sentencing hearing to allow the state of Oklahoma to "allow for resolution of the state court proceedings as to reinstatement of defendant's state court conviction."

"The court has not accepted the plea agreement and court will determine at the sentencing hearing whether the plea agreement should be accepted," Eagan wrote in her order. "The resolution of the state court proceedings may affect the court's determination concerning acceptance of the plea agreement."

Castro-Huerta faces up to life in federal prison if Eagan does not accept the plea agreement.

The sentencing hearing is now scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Oct. 7 at the federal courthouse in Tulsa.

Last year, state prosecutors successfully appealed OCCA's decision to overturn Castro-Huerta's conviction in an attempt to limit the McGirt decision that deemed the Muscogee (Creek) Nation as "Indian Country" and gave the federal government criminal jurisdiction over major crimes committed by and against Native Americans.

OCCA in 2021 applied the SCOTUS decision in the McGirt case to the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Quapaw Nation — stating the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction over all crimes committed by and against Native Americans per the federal General Crimes Act.

State prosecutors appealed the OCCA ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court — which ruled in Castro-Huerta v. Oklahoma that the state shares criminal jurisdiction with the federal government in crimes committed by non-Native Americans against Native Americans in "Indian Country" and overturned the dismissal of Castro-Huerta's state case.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com