Wadkins v. State

Decision Date20 January 2022
Docket NumberCase No. F-2018-790
Citation504 P.3d 605
Parties Robert Eric WADKINS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma




¶1 Appellant Robert Eric Wadkins appeals his Judgment and Sentence from the District Court of Choctaw County, Case No. CF-2017-126, for First Degree Rape (Count 1), in violation of 21 O.S.2011, §§ 1114 and 1115 and Kidnapping (Count 2), in violation of 21 O.S.Supp.2012, § 741, each after former conviction of two or more felonies. The Honorable Gary L. Brock, Special Judge, presided over Wadkins's jury trial and sentenced Wadkins, in accordance with the jury's verdict, to forty years imprisonment on Count 1 and five years imprisonment on Count 2, to be served consecutively. Wadkins raises seven claims on appeal. We find relief is required on Wadkins's jurisdictional challenge in Proposition 1, rendering his other claims moot.

1. Jurisdiction

¶2 We must decide whether Wadkins sufficiently demonstrated he qualifies as Indian and thus was not subject to the jurisdiction of Oklahoma's courts. Wadkins claims Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction because he is Indian and the charged crimes occurred in Indian country. McGirt v. Oklahoma, ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S.Ct. 2452, 207 L.Ed.2d 985 (2020). In McGirt , the Supreme Court held the reservation Congress established for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation remains in existence today because Congress has never explicitly disestablished it. That ruling meant Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute McGirt, an Indian, because he committed his crimes on the Creek Reservation, i.e., in Indian country, and the federal government has jurisdiction of such criminal matters under the federal Indian Major Crimes Act (IMCA), 18 U.S.C. § 1153. In light of McGirt, we remanded this case to the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine: (1) Wadkins's Indian status; and (2) whether the crime occurred in Indian country pursuant to United States v. Diaz , 679 F.3d 1183, 1187 (10th Cir. 2012) ; United States v. Prentiss, 273 F.3d 1277, 1280 (10th Cir. 2001) ; Goforth v. State, 1982 OK CR 48, ¶ 6, 644 P.2d 114, 116.

¶3 There is no dispute that the charged rape and kidnapping took place in Indian Country, i.e., the Choctaw Reservation.1 This claim turns on the district court's resolution of the first question on remand, namely Wadkins's Indian status.2 Indian status has two components. Defendants, like Wadkins, must produce prima facie evidence that: (1) he or she has some Indian blood; and (2) he or she was recognized as an Indian by a tribe or the federal government. See State v. Klindt, 1989 OK CR 75, ¶ 5, 782 P.2d 401, 403 (holding a defendant has the burden to prove his or her Indian status for dismissal based on lack of state jurisdiction). The parties agree that Wadkins has some Indian blood and satisfies the first prong of the Indian status test. Indian blood alone, however, is insufficient to warrant federal criminal jurisdiction because "jurisdiction over Indians in Indian country does not derive from a racial classification but from the special status of a formerly sovereign people." St. Cloud v. United States , 702 F.Supp. 1456, 1461 (D.S.D. 1988). Within the ambit of federal criminal jurisdiction, the term "Indian" "includes both racial and political components of the Indian community." Parker v. State, 2021 OK CR 17, ¶ 39, 495 P.3d 653, 666. The recognition prong "in essence probes whether the Native American has a sufficient non-racial link to a formerly sovereign people." St. Cloud, 702 F.Supp. at 1461. While recognition is often proven by evidence of tribal membership, Parker, 2021 OK CR 17, ¶ 36, 495 P.3d at 666, recognition is in dispute in this case because Wadkins, although presently a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, was not a member when the charged offenses occurred.

¶4 At the evidentiary hearing, the district court accepted the parties' Agreed Stipulation that: (1) the locations of the charged crimes are within the historical boundaries of the Choctaw Nation; (2) the Choctaw Nation is a federally recognized tribe; (3) Wadkins has some Indian blood; and (4) he became an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation after the commission of the charged offenses. The evidentiary portion of the hearing focused on whether or not Wadkins was recognized by the Choctaws at the time of the charged offenses. The district court heard from three witnesses, including Wadkins, and took the matter under advisement. It later concluded that Wadkins failed to show through his testimony and admitted exhibits that he was recognized as Indian by the Choctaws or the federal government at the time of the crimes. The district court issued written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, memorializing its ruling, stating:

1. The parties entered into a stipulation that Mr. Wadkins has a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB). That degree is 3/16 Indian blood of the Choctaw Tribe.
2. Mr. Wadkins was not an enrolled member of the Choctaw Tribe at the time of the offense. He did not possess a CDIB Card, nor had he applied for one.
3. Mr. Wadkins was convicted in May of 2018. He did not become an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma until October 9, 2020. The Defendant now has a Choctaw Nation Membership Card.
4. This Court finds that at the time the crime was committed by Mr. Wadkins [he was not recognized as Indian because of his] failure to seek membership in the Choctaw Nation until after the conviction, [his] voluntary associations with the "Universal Aryan Brotherhood" (a white supremacist gang), his unfamiliarity with who tribal leaders were, [the] lack of any credible evidence that any benefits he may have received from the tribe were exclusive to members of the Choctaw Nation, [and] no credibel (sic) evidence that the Defendant had social recognition as an Indian through living on a reservation and participating in Indian social life.

¶5 Based upon these findings, the district court concluded that Wadkins failed to meet "the standards set forth in the Rogers Test." Although it concluded the crimes occurred in Indian country, the district court concluded "Mr. Wadkins' status was not Indian at the commission of the offense or Trial or for the purpose of denying the State of Oklahoma jurisdiction."

¶6 We set forth our standard of review of a district court's rulings involving Indian country jurisdiction in Parker :

We afford a district court's factual findings that are supported by the record great deference and review those findings for an abuse of discretion. Young v. State, 2000 OK CR 17, ¶ 109, 12 P.3d 20, 48. We decide the correctness of legal conclusions based on those facts without deference. See Gomez v. State , 2007 OK CR 33, ¶ 5, 168 P.3d 1139, 1141-42 (reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence based on a complaint of an illegal search and seizure with deference to the trial court's factual findings unless not supported by competent evidence and a trial court's legal conclusions based on those facts de novo ); Salazar v. State, 2005 OK CR 24, ¶ 19, 126 P.3d 625, 630 (giving district court's factual findings strong deference, but deciding without deference ultimate claim of trial counsel effectiveness).

Parker , 2021 OK CR 17, ¶ 34, 495 P.3d at 665.

¶7 Wadkins maintains on appeal that his subsequent tribal enrollment coupled with his membership eligibility at the time of the charged offenses is sufficient to prove recognition. The State, on the other hand, asks us to adopt a "bright line" test which bases recognition solely on tribal enrollment at the time of the offense(s). In Parker, we rejected a claim that eligibility alone was sufficient to establish tribal recognition and upheld the district court's ruling that Parker failed to prove the recognition prong of the Indian status test. Id. 2021 OK CR 17, ¶¶ 37-42, 495 P.3d at 666-67. We also rejected the State's plea to adopt a "bright line" test basing recognition solely on tribal enrollment at the time of the offense. Id. 2021 OK CR 17, ¶ 37, 495 P.3d at 666. We accepted as settled that a person may be Indian for purposes of federal criminal jurisdiction whether or not the person is formally enrolled in any tribe and cited with approval the factors (sometimes referred to as the St. Cloud factors) that most courts consider in some fashion in determining recognition. Id. 2021 OK CR 17, ¶¶ 36, 40, 495 P.3d at 665, 666. See also United States v. Bruce , 394 F.3d 1215, 1224-25 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing numerous cases holding that lack of enrollment is not determinative of recognition); United States v. Drewry , 365 F.3d 957, 961 (10th Cir. 2004), vacated on other grounds by Drewry v. United States, 543 U.S. 1103, 125 S.Ct. 987, 160 L.Ed.2d 1015 (2005) (affirming tribal enrollment is not the only way to prove a person is Indian for federal criminal jurisdiction); St. Cloud , 702 F.Supp. at 1461 (accepting a person may still be an Indian though not enrolled with a recognized tribe). The factors courts consider for Indian recognition are:


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