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Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg

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State Supreme Court Dissolves Writ in Pardons Case


PIERRE, S.D. - Today the South Dakota Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision in John Doe v. Nelson, reversed a Minnehaha County Circuit Court decision and authorized the Secretary of State to release several sealed pardons for public inspection. The circuit court had issued a writ that prohibited the Secretary of State and the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles from unsealing and allowing public inspection of 279 pardons. The circuit judge had ruled that the Governor’s power to pardon included the power to seal the pardons from public inspection. 

The Supreme Court determined that the Governor has no statutory or constitutional right to seal pardons granted directly by him. They also determined that the constitutional power of the Governor to grant pardons, while broad, is not unlimited. The Court ruled that only the legislature has the power to seal pardons. 

“The High Court returned a quick and favorable decision on a matter of great importance not just for the State of South Dakota, but for other states that are watching this case,” said Long. “We are very pleased with the outcome.” 

The Supreme Court decision will not be final for 20 days to allow petitions to ask for rehearing. The Supreme Court will then issue a remitter which will transfer the jurisdiction back to the circuit court.