Guest column: Court rulings should be celebrated by all Oklahomans
Matloff v. Wallace established that McGirt is NOT retroactive in cases where the defendants’ convictions were “final” at the time the McGirt ruling was rendered in July of 2020.
A “final conviction” basically means that the conviction had been affirmed on appeal, or that the defendant had waived his/her right to an appellate review of the conviction. The Matloff opinion is a monumental “win” for the criminal justice system in Oklahoma, and in particular, for the victims in those cases. Prior to yesterday’s ruling in Matloff, a multitude of state convictions in major cases (including murders, rapes, child molestations, and robberies) were destined to be vacated by state judges and such cases would have been referred to federal prosecutors to assess for federal prosecution. Many of these cases were more than ten years old. Thus, a “re-prosecution” of such cases would likely have been problematic. Given that all parties to such prosecutions were under the reasonable belief that those cases had been forever resolved and due also to the passage of time, the likelihood of unavailable witnesses, missing police reports, and faded memories were substantial and subsequent federal convictions, due to staleness, would have been much more difficult to obtain than the initial state convictions.
Again, yesterday’s development on the McGirt front should be celebrated by all Oklahomans. It should be noted that yesterday’s development in no way minimizes the sovereign rights of the tribes previously reiterated by the McGirt decision itself. It merely draws a line in the sand in regards to how far back convicts can challenge the validity of their state convictions and offers much more stability and order to our criminal justice system. Had this decision not been rendered, the McGirt ruling, as it previously stood, would have resulted in many miscarriages of justice by vacating old convictions which justice dictates should not have been disturbed.
— Craig Ladd is the District Attorney for Oklahoma's District 20 covering Carter, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Murray counties.