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Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg

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S. D. Supreme Court Upholds Significant Provisions of South Dakota’s Prison Reform Act of 2013


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:   Thursday, July 16, 2015 
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern  (605) 773-3215 

South Dakota Supreme Court Upholds Significant Provisions of South Dakota’s Prison
Reform Act of 2013

PIERRE –       Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of South Dakota’s presumptive probation law.

“South Dakota’s Prison Reform Act has presented an important opportunity to better protect the public by being smarter on crime. Today’s decision reaffirms that the success of the Prison Reform Act hinges upon proper implementation and the importance of providing trial judges with the ability to take into consideration all the facts and circumstances of victims and defendants during sentencing,” said Jackley.

Sierra Anderson was arrested for both distribution and possession of a controlled substance. She pled guilty to distribution and was sentenced to a six year sentence. For her conviction of possession, the sentencing court declined her presumptive probation request and imposed a sentence of four years in the penitentiary, with two years suspended. The sentencing court found aggravated circumstances that allowed it to depart from probation including the following: 1) Anderson pleaded guilty to distribution of a controlled substance, 2) she was unemployed and had a history of sporadic employment 3) she violated probation as a juvenile, and 4) she was not a good candidate for probation and would require a high-supervision level if placed on probation.  Anderson argued that the court’s departure from presumptive probations violated of her constitutional right to a jury trial.

The South Dakota Supreme Court stated that “this case exemplifies the sentencing court’s role in administering the criminal justice system and fashioning a sentence within the legislative and constitutional framework”.  The Court recognized that it is appropriate for the sentencing court to determine whether incarceration is appropriate, and it is appropriate for that court to decide facts relevant to that decision.

The 2013 Legislative Session included the passage of Senate Bill 70 and the reform of the criminal justice system in South Dakota, which included the creation of presumptive probation and the ability to overcome that presumption based upon a defendant’s conduct and circumstances.