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Senate committee rejects minimum DUI sentences

Pierre capitol statehouse legislative session legislature

A South Dakota legislator who is also a grieving grandson has failed in his attempt to impose mandatory sentences on repeat DUI offenders. Rep. Chris Karr proposed mandatory minimum sentences after his 91-year-old grandmother was killed last year, struck by a drunk driver as she was crossing a street in her hometown of Redfield.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted the bill down for those reasons.

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Chris Karr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the driver who killed his grandmother wore a shirt to his first court appearance that said “Member of the drinking class.”

Karr didn’t name the offender, but news reports identify him as Ronald Frankfurth, who is now 59 years old and in the state penitentiary, serving maximum sentences on vehicular manslaughter and a sixth DUI. He comes up for first parole in December 2027.

Karr made it clear in his testimony that his proposal to set minimum sentences does not respond specifically to his family’s tragedy. But he said he learned through that experience that repeat offenders often escape imprisonment.

Karr said he supports DUI court, but at some point, significant prison time is called for.

“Some individuals, however, and in this particular case, had a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, a fifth chance, a sixth chance, a seventh chance, an eighth chance, and so on. And wasted those chances. People make mistakes but they also make choices,” he said.

Opponents to the bill included the Unified Judicial System, which has over the years established specialty courts such as DUI court.

State Court Administrator Greg Sattizahn said DUI court is highly effective, directing intensive treatment to the most hardcore repeat offenders. But he said it is not available to offenders who spend any time in prison, even as little as a year, and so mandatory minimums for fourth-time offenders and above would effectively kill DUI court.

“If this bill passes, we would move to shutter those programs, finish up the 101 folks that are in there right now, because it’s not a program that’s designed for first offenders,” he said.

Sattizahn said the bill removes sentencing discretion from judges, who consider the particulars case by case, and it doesn’t address the plea agreements made by prosecutors.