10th Circuit grants habeas relief to Oklahoma death row inmate on claim that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction over the capital crime
Posted on: 7/8/2013 09:13:32 AM by Peoples

In Magnan v. Trammell, ___ F.3d ___, 2013 WL 2897799 (10th Cir. June 14, 2013), the Tenth Circuit (Briscoe, with Kelly and Hartz) agreed with David Magnan that the three murders he pleaded guilty to having committed occurred on "Indian County" and, therefore, Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction over the offenses. 

Magnan argued that AEDPA’s limitations on relief were inapplicable to his jurisdictional claim because the controversy is one solely reserved to federal courts to resolve. The panel concluded, however, that it was not required to decide this "difficult question," as it found Magnan entitled to habeas relief even if the limitations of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) applied. The state courts had ruled that a 1970 conveyance had removed the property from Indian title. In reaching this conclusion, the state court had, according to the panel, made two unreasonable determinations of fact, one of which clearly impacted its jurisdictional holding. Specifically, the evidentiary record failed to support the state courts’ finding that a United States Trial Attorney who worked for the Department of the Interior had the authority to act on the Secretary of the Interior’s behalf during the 1970 state court proceeding regarding approving the conveyance of restricted purchased interests in the property. 

Looking at the claim de novo, the panel concluded that the property at issue remained Indian Country at the time of the murders and that exclusive jurisdiction over the crimes therefore rests with the United States under the Indian Major Crimes Act. The panel reversed the district court’s denial of habeas relief and remanded with instructions to grant the petition and to direct respondent to release Magnan from custody upon issuance of the mandate.