SD Supreme Court

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement officers' personnel records can be subpoenaed by defendants in criminal trials. State law says personnel records are confidential, but justices say the U.S. Constitution gives a defendant the right to prepare a defense. However, justices set guidelines to be met before officers' confidential records are opened, starting with a three-pronged test that originated with the prosecution of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.

A ranching couple from Quinn whose cattle drowned during a winter storm will receive compensation from their insurance company. The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that even though the cattle were not found immersed in water, they died from liquid saturating their lungs. SDPB's Victoria Wicks has this follow-up to the 2013 storm, which devastated parts of Western South Dakota.

For 2013 SDPB coverage of Winter Storm Atlas, click on the links below.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Victoria Wicks

A Rapid City jury heard opening statements Monday, Dec. 4, in a criminal trial on allegations of abuse that left an infant brain-damaged, deaf, and blind. Patrick White Face is charged with breaking his six-week-old daughter's leg and then, four days later, causing other injuries. But the defense attorney says the child's physical symptoms are consistent with illness and do not point to abuse.

UJS photo

South Dakota Supreme Court justices weigh in when lawyers come before them to make oral arguments. And they did so in October, when the defense made a case for calling Fall River County residents as jurors for an Oglala Lakota County lawsuit.

Justices issued an opinion in that case Thursday, Nov. 5.

A Rapid City man convicted in September 2013 of attempting to abort his girlfriend’s fetus has appealed his conviction for attempted fetal homicide. Oral arguments were heard Wednesday before the South Dakota Supreme Court. Alfredo Vargas claims the evidence was insufficient for a conviction and his rights were violated when jurors heard a secretly recorded phone conversation between him and his wife.

South Dakota political columnist Bob Mercer pleaded his own case Tuesday before the state Supreme Court. Mercer is suing the state’s Attorney General for release of the Richard Benda death investigation reports. The attorney general’s refusal to release those records was upheld last year by the Office of Hearing Examiners and by the Sixth Circuit Court.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

A South Dakota death row inmate’s conviction and sentence stand. A ruling from the United States Supreme Court Monday denies Rodney Berget’s request to overturn the state court’s decision. This puts an end to any direct appeals to his murder conviction and capital sentence.

Correctional Officer Ron Johnson died a violent death in May of 2011 when two inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary tried to escape from prison. Eric Robert and Rodney Berget were caught, tried, and convicted in the killing.

The South Dakota Supreme Court is in session this week, and on Wednesday justices heard an appeal from a man convicted of first-degree manslaughter for shooting a gun while he was being assaulted. Charles Birdshead was sentenced to 45 years in prison. His attorney says instructions to the jury were flawed and evidence of his prior crimes was improperly admitted.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s ban on driving under the influence of alcohol did not take a two-year hiatus. Last month a Lake Andes lawyer argued that the state DUI-alcohol law could not be enforced for a two-year period. Timothy Whalen contended that the 2012 legislature created an error and didn’t fix it until 2014. But Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Hallem said clearly the legislature did not intend to legalize drunk driving, and a unanimous court agreed.


A man found guilty of aggravated assault against law enforcement wants the state’s highest court to throw out his conviction. This week the South Dakota Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments at the University of Sioux Falls. Attorneys in one of Monday’s cases disagree about the state’s definition of "serious bodily injury."

Last December a Lincoln County judge found Samuel Miland guilty of possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault against law enforcement. For that last conviction, Miland received 40 years in the state penitentiary.

Now that the state Supreme Court has determined South Dakota’s implied consent law to be unconstitutional, the criminal justice system and the state legislature have to regroup. The Attorney General says new processes could cost money, and the legislature might have to find ways to bolster public safety. But the attorney who prevailed in the case tells SDPB’s Victoria Wicks that protection of constitutional rights justifies the “new normal.”

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that law officers must obtain warrants before drawing blood in routine DUI arrests. Now the South Dakota Supreme Court is dealing with that ruling. In a recent opinion, the state’s high court says the decision in Missouri versus McNeely does not apply retroactively.


For the second time, a convicted killer’s death sentence is in front of South Dakota’s Supreme Court. Rodney Berget won an element of his first appeal to the high court, but his attorney returns with arguments that the process and procedures of his sentencing aren’t fair.

South Dakota’s highest court says a confession can be used against a woman at trial. The decision stems from the killing of a 16-year-old Mitchell girl in November of 2009. A man pleaded guilty to the murder; now his former girlfriend’s case is moving to trial.

More than five years ago, 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara’s body was found in the trunk of a car set on fire in rural Hanson County. She suffered stab wounds, and an autopsy says she was burned alive.

  Arguments in front of South Dakota’s Supreme Court could impact the plans for a Walmart on the south side of Sioux Falls. Voters approved rezoning for the project earlier this month in a city election. But state justices are weighing whether Sioux Falls annexed the land properly. 

The attorney for the Save Our Neighborhood group in Sioux Falls begins his oral arguments in front of the state Supreme Court with a thinly-veiled reference to the Walmart issue.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Briley Piper’s guilty plea in the killing of Chester Allan Poage stands. The South Dakota Supreme Court says Piper can’t take back his admission that he killed a man more than a decade ago. The decision was released Thursday.

State officials warn of another phone scam targeting South Dakotans. This time it involves the court system. The Unified Judicial System and the Attorney General’s office say criminals are trying to get personal information and banking details from people by lying about legal consequences.

A South Dakota death row inmate wants a jury to hear his case, and it’s up to the South Dakota Supreme Court to decide if he gets a new trial. The high court entertains arguments that Briley Piper didn’t fully understand how waiving his right to a jury trial impacted his fate.