FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : Thursday, January 07, 2016
CONTACT: Sara Rabern (605)773-3215
South Dakota Supreme Court Denies Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea in
Vehicular Manslaughter Case
PIERRE, S.D. - Attorney General Marty J. Jackley announced today that the South Dakota Supreme Court has denied a motion to withdraw a guilty plea in State v. Tammy Jean Kvasnicka.
“Driving under the influence, taking a life, and seriously injuring another are tragic acts that cannot be taken lightly. I want to thank the Minnehaha County prosecutors and investigators for all their work in this case, and emphasize the need to continue working to make our streets safer for the public,” said Jackley.
On July 10, 2010, at approximately 2:00 a.m. Kvasnicka caused a fatal crash, killing one passenger and seriously injuring another while driving under the influence down the wrong way of the I-229. Her blood alcohol content was as high as .225 at 3:44 a.m. and still at least .200 at 4:47 a.m. Kvasnicka was convicted of first degree manslaughter by means of a dangerous weapon, vehicular homicide, vehicular battery, and driving under the influence. In addition, Kvasnicka admitted to two habitual-offender informations alleging that she had been previously convicted twice for driving under the influence and once for second degree burglary. The circuit court sentenced her to 70 years in prison with 18 suspended. Kvasnicka appealed and the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed, holding Kvasnicka was prejudiced by the admission of expert testimony regarding kinetic energy. The court remanded for a new trial.
In August 2013, the second trial was scheduled to begin. Kvasnicka pled guilty to one count of first-degree manslaughter and one count of vehicular battery. In exchange for her plea, the State agreed to seek a sentence of 37.5 years and restitution in the amount of $199,111. On February 26, 2014, the day before her scheduled sentencing, defense counsel informed the State that Kvasnicka might want to withdraw her plea. Kvasnicka did not file a motion to withdraw her plea until June 12, 2014. The State indicated that it would be prejudicial by Kvasnicka’s withdrawal of her plea because it was unable to locate an essential witness. The circuit court denied her motion to withdraw her guilty plea.
On appeal Kvasnicka argued the circuit court abused its discretion when it denied her motion to withdraw her guilty plea because she was unable to recall the events of July 10, 2010.
The South Dakota Supreme Court rejected Kvasnicka’s argument, finding it meritless. At the time she entered her plea she remembered the events. The Court concluded that lying to the plea-taking court does not support a fair and just reason for later withdrawing a guilty plea.