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S.D. Supreme Court overturns robbery & assault convictions

South Dakota Supreme Court
South Dakota Supreme Court

The South Dakota Supreme Court has overturned the felony convictions of a Sioux Falls couple for robbing and assaulting an undocumented immigrant. The divided court found that the co-defendants should have been able to tell the jury that the man was motivated to lie about being a victim to gain legal immigration status. Two justices dissented from that opinion.

Arianna Reecy
Arianna Reecy

Supreme Court justices heard arguments almost a year ago in the appeal from Arianna Reecy and Kevin Dickerson. The two were convicted of robbing and assaulting Julio Gomez Rojas in Sioux Falls.

The jury was told that Reecy was working as an exotic dancer going by the name “Kisses” when she met Rojas. The two struck up a friendship, and on Nov.19, 2019, she went to Rojas’s apartment to borrow money. Without Rojas’ knowledge, her boyfriend, Kevin Dickerson, was following close behind.

After a series of events in dispute, Rojas’ neighbors heard him screaming for help and called emergency services. Rojas had a cut on his forehead, and he told police that Dickerson had assaulted him, threatened him with a gun, and taken his wallet.

A week later, Rojas learned about U-Visa, a federal program that might confer legal status, either temporary or permanent, to victims of certain crimes. The trial judge did not allow the defendants to present that fact as evidence, saying the jury might be unduly prejudiced against the victim.

Kevin Dickerson
Kevin Dickerson

At oral arguments, Christopher Miles represented Kevin Dickerson. He told justices that his client should have been allowed to tell the jury about the victim’s incentive to lie.

“And the prosecutor told the jury, ‘Really, it comes down to one question: Who do you believe? Rojas doesn’t have anything at stake in this case.’ But Rojas had four years of lawful residency in the United States at stake. Rojas had the potential for lawful permanent residency here in the United States at stake,” Miles said.

The defendants were allowed to tell the jury that Rojas was trying to rape Arianna Reecy, and she fought back until Dickerson came to her aid and assaulted Rojas.

But Reecy’s attorney, Mark Kadi, said during arguments that presenting one motive to lie is not enough when there’s another one available.

“A reason to lie is like the shoes on your feet. You can get farther with two than you can with one,” he said.

Kadi told justices that after Rojas reported being robbed and assaulted, he had a third motive, to avoid false reporting or perjury charges.

“Once you state to police that you’re a victim of the crime and you weren’t, and then the trial comes along, you still have an interest to maintain that story,” Kadi said.

Three justices concurred on the decision to reverse the conviction and remand the case to the Second Circuit for a new trial. Two justices dissented, saying that Rojas did not know about U-Visa when he told police he had been assaulted and robbed by Reecy and Dickerson.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.