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Crime & Courts

Amended bill exempts some rapists from sentencing option

Screenshot 2022-01-27 113914.jpg

After approving an amendment not acceptable to the prime sponsor, the House Judiciary Committee has passed a bill that denies a lenient sentencing option to accused rapists. The original bill included all definitions of rape, but the amended version exempts defendants who commit statutory rape or rape of a victim too intoxicated to give consent.

The State’s Attorney’s Association does not take a stand on House Bill 1026, but lobbyist Paul Bachand was asked by the committee chair to explain what a suspended imposition is.

“What the judge does, at the time they enter the plea, the judge withholds a finding of guilt and says, ‘If you comply with these conditions, it’ll be as if you’ve never been convicted of this offense,’” Bachand replied.

He clarified further: a suspended imposition is available only to a first-time felon, and the defendant has to admit guilt. The suspension can last for a few weeks or a number of years and during that time can include listing on sex offender registries. The sentencing judge has discretion.

The committee approved an amended version of the bill that does not permit judges to give suspended impositions to defendants who use force, coercion, or threats or who rape a victim under the age of 13 or a victim who is mentally or physically incapable of giving consent.

But a defendant who commits statutory rape or rape of an intoxicated victim is still eligible for a suspended imposition.

Justin Bell is a lobbyist for the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He told the House committee that the amendment is more palatable but not perfect.

“We believe that judges are the most appropriate individuals in the case-by-case situation to determine whether or not a suspended imposition should be granted,” Bell said.

The prime sponsor, Representative Mary Fitzgerald, also does not agree with the amendment, but for different reasons.

“You know there seems to be all this concern about defendants and perpetrators,” she said in committee. “Where’s the concern for victims who live with this for the rest of their life?”