Victoria Wicks

SDPB Freelance Reporter/Producer

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She has in the past been a newspaper reporter, and she spent about 14 years advocating for crime victims in Rapid City and Aberdeen. Vicky is also a creative writer; several of her short stories have been published, one of them in an anthology titled Fishing for Chickens: Short Stories about Rural Youth. In addition, Vicky is a visual artist, creating pottery, watercolors, oil and acrylic paintings, and photographs. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of South Dakota.

Photo courtesy of John Murphy

A Hot Springs man convicted of third-degree rape has been denied a new trial. The South Dakota Supreme Court found that the prosecutor's conduct was "exceedingly inappropriate," but the evidence supported the jury's decision to convict. One justice, however, dissented from the majority opinion. Justice Janine Kern said the prosecutor's conduct was so improper, the conviction should be reversed.

Photo courtesy of Timothy Barnaud

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who can't afford to make bail have to be given credit for the time they sit in jail before they're found guilty. That means pre-sentence incarceration must be deducted from the total time they're sentenced to spend in jail or prison. The attorney whose argument prevailed tells SDPB's Victoria Wicks that the ruling is a matter of fairness.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

Harney Peak in the Black Hills will keep its current name at least through the summer, as activists work to reach consensus on a new name. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names stalled at its April meeting and now has continued the matter to August. If area tribes can agree to Black Elk Peak as the new name, the board is inclined to make the change. 

The second-degree murder conviction of a Pierre teen has been upheld by the South Dakota Supreme Court. Justices ruled that a jury instruction given by the trial judge was legal. Two justices agreed with the majority opinion, but with reservations, saying that just because something is legal doesn't mean it should be done.

Photo courtesy of G. Michael Fenner

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deliberating a Texas abortion case. The ruling is expected later this month.

Texas says its laws protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. But opponents say the laws are designed to block the availability of the procedure.

A decisive opinion from the Supreme Court could resolve problems with certain abortion laws in South Dakota and other states, some of them hung up in appeals courts.

Photo by Laurel Hoskins

A lawsuit against Pennington County officials for violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act is moving toward resolution. A hearing in federal court at the end of May will give the state remedies for practices that violate ICWA. And last week, an issue over missing documents was resolved. SDPB's Victoria Wicks has followed this case since it was first filed in 2013.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has not yet made a decision on changing the name of Harney Peak in the Black Hills. The board discussed the topic at its April meeting, held last week, but failed to come to a consensus.

Executive director Lou Yost says the board will probably take up the issue again at its June 9 or July 14 meeting.

On March 22, the South Dakota Supreme Court heard the appeal of a man convicted of kidnapping. On Thursday, April 7, the court issued a quick turnaround opinion, reversing the conviction.

Photo courtesy of Lakota Language Consortium

For a language to survive, it has to live, and a living language has to change. Speakers of the Lakota language made that realization generations ago and coined new words for new concepts.

Today, a consortium of teachers, speakers, and learners continue that work, to keep the language alive and growing.

At a weekend Lakota language workshop, instructor Ben Black Bear, Jr. says that a living language keeps a culture relevant.

Listen to audio below for the rest of this story.

The South Dakota Supreme Court says an Attorney General's ballot explanation of an initiated measure satisfies state law. That measure, which voters will consider in November, requires a cap of 36 percent interest and fees on short-term loans.

Justices upheld a lower court's refusal to look at studies showing that capped interest rates can destroy the short-term lending industry.

During oral arguments in February, plaintiffs' lawyer Alan Simpson said the Attorney General's opinion should include the damage done to the industry.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Attorney

A former state Department of Revenue employee is accused of defrauding banks and their customers in four states and wiring much of the money to coconspirators in Nigeria.

A 13-page indictment on file with South Dakota federal court lays out the allegations against 69-year-0ld Steven Arthur Knigge. They include wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and tampering.

The South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, March 22, in an appeal from a Sioux Falls man who says he was too intoxicated at the time of the crime to have formed intent to commit it. His attorney says the trial judge should have instructed the jury on specific intent as it relates to voluntary intoxication. But the state says the defense attorney made those points through evidence and closing arguments.

A New York man whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in South Dakota says his family intends to attempt an initiated measure to designate vehicular homicide as a crime of violence.

Maegan Spindler and Robert Klumb were killed at Pickstown by Ronald Ray Fischer in July 2013. He was sentenced to the maximum 15 years for each death, to be served consecutively. For a nonviolent crime, he'll come up for parole after serving 30 percent of the sentence.

Legislative Research Council

In July 2013, Ronald Ray Fischer sped through a stop sign and killed two people who were standing in a Pickstown parking lot. First Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson did not find that Fischer's manslaughter charges fit the circumstances and instead found Fischer guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide.

The South Dakota Legislature is now batting around versions of a bill designed to ensure that egregiously impaired drivers who cause death face greater penalties.

Victoria Wicks file photo

The leader of a renounced Mormon sect in Custer County will remain in federal custody until he is tried in Utah.

Seth Jeffs, 42, made a second appearance in Rapid City Monday morning for a detention hearing. He made a first appearance last week on charges of fraud and money laundering.

The Statehouse Podcast for February 28th, 2016 includes coverage of legislation on transgender bathrooms, possible Medicaid expansion, medical marijuana, and education funding.

Victoria Wicks file photo

A federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act in Pennington County is now back in motion. Judge Jeffrey Viken issued an order on March 30 last year, finding that judges, prosecutors, and child protection officials violated ICWA in the way they conducted hearings immediately after children were removed from their parents' care. For almost a year, Viken has been reviewing defendants' motions for reconsideration. SDPB's Victoria Wicks has followed this case since it was filed in federal court in early 2013.

Legislative Research Council

House Bill 1107 is dead. This is the bill pushed by Rep. Scott Craig, a minister from Rapid City. It would allow people and businesses to discriminate, on religious grounds, against gay, lesbian, and transgender people without fear of losing government contracts, grants, and tax exemptions.

Craig made a brief statement in this morning's Senate Judiciary hearing.

Victoria Wicks file photo

A member of a fundamentalist Mormon sect with a settlement in Custer County appeared on an indictment in federal court Wednesday in Rapid City.

Seth Steed Jeffs, 42, is charged with money laundering and federal benefits fraud. Jeffs is the leader of a settlement near Pringle run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS. The Custer County Sheriff served the arrest warrant, according to the Utah District of the Department of Justice.

Also charged are 10 Utah FLDS members.

Photo courtesy of SD Attorney General

The Senate Judiciary has approved a bill that adds the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide to state statute. It also categorizes the existing crime of vehicular homicide as violent, rather than nonviolent, resulting in a longer prison sentence for convicts. Proponents point specifically to the conviction of Ronald Ray Fischer as justification for changing the law. Opponents say it paints with too broad a brush.

Photo courtesy of Graves Garrett LLC

In November, South Dakota voters will consider whether the interest charged by short-term lenders should be capped at 36 percent. The South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday, Feb. 16, challenging an Attorney General's explanation of that ballot initiative. Opponents say the explanation fails to point out that the initiative kills off payday loans, title loans, and some car loans.

Legislative Research Council

House Bill 1107 is headed to the Senate side of the legislature. That's the bill designed to protect religious entities against losing government money or tax breaks because they discriminate against gay or transgender people. The bill passed the House on Monday, Feb. 8. Proponents say the bill protects religious freedom, but opponents say it is likely unconstitutional and will result in lawsuits against the state.

In a quick turnaround, the South Dakota Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Ronald Ray Fischer. He's serving time for driving drunk and killing two U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees. The court heard oral arguments on Jan. 13 and released its opinion Thursday, Feb. 4. Fischer argued that the trial court should have suppressed blood tests showing his alcohol content to be almost three and a half times the legal limit.

For more information on federal and state law and supreme court decisions, follow the links posted with the story below.

Jenifer Jones

The Statehouse Podcast for February 3nd, 2016 includes coverage of legislation on transgender and gay marriage polices and effort to modify a measure dealing with health care passed by voters in 2014.  The podcast also includes an update on the bill requiring the results of abortion facility inspections to be posted on-line and legislation that requires schools to implement and practice safety plans.

Photo courtesy of ACLU-SD

The House State Affairs committee has voted to approve a bill that ensures continued state funding and tax breaks for entities that discriminate against gay or transgender people. House Bill 1107 protects organizations or people who act on their religious belief that marriage is reserved for male and female partners and that biological gender is unchangeable.

Photo courtesy of SD Attorney General

Prison inmates who committed murder while juveniles have a chance to escape their mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision this week that Miller v. Alabama is retroactive, and so inmates convicted before that 2012 decision can now ask for a reduced sentence. Justices say states can offer parole eligibility to the affected inmates and avoid a new trial or sentence hearing. In South Dakota, only one inmate, Paul Dean Jensen, is affected.

PUC photo

CenturyLink customers will soon receive phone books on demand, rather than receiving them every year without asking, according to a declaratory ruling made Tuesday, Jan. 19, by the Public Utilities Commission.

Customers who request phone books can put in a standing order, rather than having to ask every year.

CenturyLink, parent company of Qwest, contracts with Dex for phone books. The publisher has been transitioning away from paper phone directories and moving toward digital lists online.

Photo courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has to decide if phone books are going the way of the hand-written letter. Phone book publisher Dex is transitioning from paper directories to online listings in a number of states. Two weeks ago the state PUC heard from representatives of Dex, Qwest, and CenturyLink, who want to transition away from printing phone books in South Dakota and publish directories online. The commission delayed making a decision until its hearing on Jan. 19.

In May 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law officers need to get a warrant to draw blood from DUI suspects unless exigent circumstances do not allow.

A year later, the South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments that the state's blood draw process was unconstitutional.

In the gap between those two events, Ronald Ray Fischer was arrested in Charles Mix County for running a stop sign while drunk and killing two U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees in a parking lot.

On December 18, 2012, 16-year-old Braiden McCahren of Pierre was arrested for shooting and killing a friend and threatening another friend with a shotgun. He was charged with first-degree murder, but at trial was convicted of second-degree murder. His attorney argued before the South Dakota Supreme Court that McCahren didn't have the chance to defend against the charge of which he was convicted.

MORE OF THE STORY

The decision to allow the jury to consider second-degree murder came after both parties had rested their cases and just before parties made closing arguments.

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