Shannon Buhl, director of the Cherokee Marshal Service addressed the Cherokee Nation tribal council rules committee on Thursday afternoon. He was asked specifically if he knew about how many new marshals he would need to hire to accommodate the increased responsibility following McGirt. He responded that he did not know as there are still questions and concerns that Congress could pass legislation affecting the responsibilities of the Cherokee Nation. He stated that what would be worse than not having enough marshals is hiring a bunch of new marshals and having to lay them off.
Attorney General Sarah Hill followed Director Buhl with an update several cases affecting the Cherokee Nation. One such case involved the UKB in which they argued that the Curtis Act prohibited Cherokee Nation having courts, but that case was dismissed stating that the Cherokee Nation does have that authority. The UKB is expected to appeal. Several cases in lower courts have ruled that the Cherokee reservation was established and never disestablished, strengthening the Cherokee Nation’s position.
Attorney General Hill further reported that her office is working on a set of recommendations on updates to the criminal code following the McGirt decision. She also spoke of the sentencing limitations of the tribe and that for more serious crimes, the tribe would depend on the United States to prosecute such crimes. She has hired several new attorneys following McGirt and expects to hire at least four more. She also cited uncertainty about what Congress may do, “helpful or hurtful.” One such reaction Congress may take is that it could allow greater sentencing power in tribal courts.
Questions were raised about statute of limitations. Hill responded that it was a concern that some people may not be held accountable for their crimes due to statute of limitations, which is a feature of due process to prevent stale evidence being used against a defendant. Statute of limitations vary based on crimes and for non-capital offenses is typically five years in federal courts. There may be some cases that may be able to be brought in tribal courts, but the statute of limitations may still not allow.
A common theme throughout the hearing was the concern of increased costs to expanding the Cherokee criminal justice system. Director Buhl raised the concern of millions of dollars being needed to expand law enforcement. AG Hill raised the concern of the increased costs of incarceration, especially if longer sentencing becomes permissible. Speaker Byrd noted that this decision came down from the US and that the state has brought on these issues.