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South Dakota Juvenile Sentencing in Springer Case Upheld as Constitutional

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE :    November 13, 2014
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605)773-3215 


 

South Dakota Juvenile Sentencing in Springer Case Upheld as Constitutional

 

PIERRE S.D. – Attorney General Marty J. Jackley announces that the South Dakota Supreme Court has held that South Dakota’s amended Juvenile Statutory Sentencing Scheme complies with U.S. Supreme Court Case Law and affirms Shawn Springer’s sentence for his role in the kidnaping, robbery and murder of Michael Hare.

“The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld our legislative changes to juvenile sentencing that strike a balance with fairness and accountability.  A juvenile that has been held accountable for his role at age 16 in a tragic murder will have a future opportunity as required by the Constitution to earn a release on parole after lengthy incarceration.” stated AG Jackley

On January 14, 1996, then 16-year old Shawn Springer and 14-year old Paul Dean Jensen, called for a taxi cab in Pierre, South Dakota.  Springer and Jensen directed the taxi driver, Michael Hare, to take them to a rural area near Fort Pierre.  Once they reached a gravel road outside Fort Pierre, Jensen exited the taxi with a gun drawn and demanded that Hare get out.  Hare complied, and Jensen then shot Hare in the chest.  As Hare begged for his life, Jensen executed Hare by firing two bullets into his head.  Jensen grabbed the money, (which amounted to just over $36), jumped into the taxi, Springer then drove the taxi into a snow bank and police apprehended both juveniles. 

On April 4, 1996, a Stanley County Grand Jury indicted Springer for multiple crimes including first degree murder, felony murder, kidnapping, robbery, grand theft, conspiracy, possession of a stolen vehicle, and aiding and abetting in some of the aforementioned crimes.  Springer entered into a plea agreement with the State, agreeing to cooperate with the police, testifying against Jensen, and provide a factual statement of the events surrounding the crimes.  Springer was ultimately sentenced to a 261 term-of-year’s sentence with the possibility of parole after he serves 33 years of his sentence.  Making him 49 years old when he is first eligible for parole. 

Following Springer’s sentence, the United States Supreme Court in a trio of cases including Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, (2012), held that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution forbid sentencing schemes that mandate life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders.   Based upon the United States Supreme Court decisions, Springer filed a motion to correct his unconstitutional sentence.  Judge Kathleen Trandahl determined that Springer’s sentence was not illegal because he had the possibility for parole and that the previous sentencing Judge Max Gors had properly considered mitigating factors, including age. 

In the Springer decision, the South Dakota Supreme Court has recognized a `“‘shift in the nations moral tolerance’ when it comes to sentencing juvenile offenders in adult court.”  Our South Dakota Supreme Court further recognized while the United States Supreme Court did not all together prohibit life sentence without parole in the Miller decision, State’s may no longer impose mandatory life sentences on juvenile homicide offenders.

The South Dakota Supreme Court went on to recognize that in 2013 the South Dakota Legislature passed the Attorney General’s sponsored legislation in an effort to comply with recent U.S. Supreme Court case law.  Specifically the South Dakota legislature changed South Dakota law to authorize, but not mandate, a life sentence without parole for a juvenile offender if he is convicted of a Class A or B felony.  Under the new amendments a juvenile may present any information in mitigation of punishment at their sentencing hearings.  The South Dakota Supreme Court concluded that these statutory changes comply with U.S. Supreme Court case law precedence. 

In its analysis the Springer Court observed that Springer did not receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility for parole; he received a 261-year term-of-years sentence with the possibility for parole after he serves 33 years of his sentence.   He will be 49 years old when he first becomes eligible for parole.  The Court concluded that Springer, therefor did not receive a de facto life sentence under any rule or rational and further declined the invitation to join jurisdictions holding U.S. Supreme Court case law applicable or inapplicable to de facto life sentences.   The Court ultimately concluded that Springer did not receive life without parole for a de facto life sentence because he has the opportunity for release at age 49, affirming the trial courts decision.  

 

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