Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court
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Brandon Scott was convicted of grand theft, a Class 5 felony, after he pled guilty to stealing a Ford F-350 pickup. The theft was part of a series of events that included breaking into a store and damaging property. Scott and the State had reached a plea agreement, which included a recommendation for a four-year "cap" at sentencing. However, the circuit court sentenced Scott to a six-year prison term with three years suspended, which Scott argued violated the terms of the plea agreement.The Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Lincoln County, South Dakota, had initially heard the case. The court accepted Scott's guilty plea and moved on to sentencing. During the sentencing hearing, Scott's counsel requested a fully suspended prison sentence concurrent with the sentence Scott was already serving. The State, however, urged the court to impose a four-year penitentiary sentence, coupled with additional suspended time. The court ultimately imposed a six-year prison sentence with three years suspended.Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed in part, but vacated and remanded for resentencing due to the circuit court's noncompliance with SDCL 22-6-11, a statute that requires a court to sentence criminal defendants convicted of a Class 5 felony to a term of probation or a fully suspended penitentiary sentence, unless there are aggravating circumstances. The Supreme Court found that the circuit court did not err in considering itself not bound by the parties' plea agreement, nor did it err in finding there was a sufficient factual basis to support Scott's plea. However, the court did not apply the provisions of SDCL 22-6-11 during sentencing, which constituted error. View "State V. Scott" on Justia Law

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The case involves James Joseph Lanpher, Jr., who pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer and admitted to being a habitual offender. The charges stemmed from a dangerous high-speed chase during which Lanpher repeatedly fired weapons at pursuing officers. The circuit court sentenced Lanpher to serve two concurrent life sentences to run consecutively to sentences he was already serving for other offenses. Lanpher appealed, claiming his sentence was cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment and was an abuse of the circuit court’s discretion.The case was previously reviewed by the circuit court of the Third Judicial Circuit, Lake County, South Dakota. The court found Lanpher guilty and sentenced him to two concurrent life sentences, to be served consecutively to sentences he was already serving for other offenses.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reviewed the case and affirmed the decision of the lower court. The court found that Lanpher's sentence did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The court also found that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in the imposition of Lanpher’s sentence. The court noted that Lanpher's violent criminal history and demonstrated disregard for human life justified the severity of his sentence. View "State v. Lanpher" on Justia Law

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In October 2019, Max Bolden shot and killed Benjamin Donahue outside a club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Bolden was indicted for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. At trial, Bolden claimed that he shot Donahue in self-defense. The circuit court denied Bolden's motions for a judgment of acquittal on the murder charges. The jury found Bolden guilty of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Bolden appealed his first-degree murder conviction on the grounds of insufficient evidence.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. The court noted that Bolden had used a gun to shoot Donahue point blank in the face without provocation, and then shot him again while he was lying on the ground. The court also pointed out that Bolden had immediately left the scene, fled the state, and disposed of the gun used to shoot Donahue. The court concluded that a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Bolden" on Justia Law

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Tristen Simonsen was convicted on two counts of solicitation of a minor, one count of sexual contact with a minor under the age of sixteen, and one count of rape in the fourth degree. The court did not specify during sentencing whether it intended to treat each charge as a separate transaction. After sentencing, the court signed four separate judgments of conviction and ordered each conviction to be served consecutively. Later the same day, the court held a hearing to clarify its intent, determining that each charge was the result of a separate transaction. Simonsen appealed, arguing that the court improperly enhanced his sentence after it had already commenced.The Supreme Court of South Dakota disagreed, ruling that the circuit court's post-sentencing declaration to treat each charge as a separate transaction only affected Simonsen's future eligibility for parole, not his sentence. The court also rejected Simonsen's argument that his constitutional rights were violated by his absence from the post-sentencing hearing, noting that the hearing only impacted his parole eligibility. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision. View "State V. Simonsen" on Justia Law

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Matthew Feucht was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to nine years in prison with four years suspended. The case arose when Feucht's daughter discovered bags of marijuana in their home and alerted her mother, who then contacted the police. A search warrant was executed, leading to the discovery of firearms, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, and approximately $6,800 in small bills. Feucht was subsequently indicted on multiple charges, but under a plea agreement, he pled guilty to unauthorized possession of a controlled substance.The Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Lincoln County, South Dakota, accepted Feucht's guilty plea and sentenced him to nine years in prison with four years suspended. Feucht appealed the sentence, arguing that the circuit court erred by imposing a penitentiary sentence without finding aggravating circumstances within the meaning of SDCL 22-6-11 and by not listing the aggravating circumstances in the judgment of conviction.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota agreed with Feucht's argument. The court found that the circuit court did not clearly identify on the record that it was departing from presumptive probation based on the existence of aggravating circumstances posing a significant risk to the public. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated Feucht's sentence and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. View "State V. Feucht" on Justia Law

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Paul Trueblood was charged with multiple offenses, including second-degree rape, following a sexual encounter with D.B.L. After a mistrial due to D.B.L. contracting COVID-19, the State presented additional evidence to a grand jury, which added charges of aiding and abetting, witness tampering, and solicitation of witness tampering. These charges were based on allegations that Trueblood arranged to have D.B.L. attacked to prevent her from testifying. On the morning of the second trial, Trueblood pled guilty to second-degree rape under a plea agreement with the State, which dismissed all other charges.Trueblood later filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, asserting his innocence but acknowledging that he did not immediately stop the sexual act when D.B.L. withdrew her consent. The Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Pennington County, South Dakota, denied the motion, finding that Trueblood's plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily and that he had not established any "fair and just reason" for the withdrawal.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Trueblood's fear of the possible ramifications of a trial was not a sufficient reason to withdraw his guilty plea. The court also noted that Trueblood's motion was not premised on a claim of actual innocence, as he continued to admit to facts sufficient for second-degree rape. The court concluded that the lower court did not abuse its discretion by denying Trueblood’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. View "State V. Trueblood" on Justia Law

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The case involves Keaton Van Der Weide, who was accused of raping S.O., his on-and-off partner and mother of his child. S.O. alleged that Van Der Weide sexually assaulted her after she returned home from a night out, while Van Der Weide maintained that the encounter was consensual and involved the use of sex toys. He was charged with second-degree rape.Before trial, Van Der Weide sought to introduce evidence of the sex toys and text messages between himself and S.O. The circuit court ruled that unless the State alleged that a toy was used during the rape, Van Der Weide could not proffer evidence of the same. The court allowed the State to cross-examine Van Der Weide based on other texts surrounding the excerpted messages. Van Der Weide was found guilty and appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of the sex toys and allowing the State to cross-examine based on unadmitted text messages.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reversed the decision, finding that the circuit court had erred in excluding Van Der Weide's testimony regarding the sex toys, violating his constitutional right to testify in his defense. The court could not conclude that preventing the jury from weighing this important context was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, Van Der Weide was entitled to a new trial. View "State v. Van Der Weide" on Justia Law

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In South Dakota, Adil Osman was suspected of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. He was identified by two witnesses through a show-up identification procedure. The witnesses saw a man near a damaged vehicle involved in an accident and later identified Osman as that man. Osman was charged and sought to suppress the identification evidence, arguing that the procedure was impermissibly suggestive. The Supreme Court of South Dakota held that while the show-up identification was suggestive, it was not unnecessary given the circumstances. The Court found that the police were in an active search for the driver, who was known to have fled the scene on foot, and that blood alcohol evidence dissipates with time.Additionally, Osman argued that the trial court erred in admitting hearsay statements during the testimony of Sergeant Treadway. The court acknowledged that the trial court did err in this regard, but concluded that the error was not prejudicial. The court found there was strong direct and circumstantial evidence of Osman's guilt, including testimony that Osman was given the key to the SUV involved in the accident and the key was later found near where Osman was detained. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "State V. Osman" on Justia Law

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In South Dakota, defendant Tashina Abraham-Medved was charged with unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. After pleading guilty, her attorney requested to withdraw from the case due to a "serious breakdown of communication" between him and Abraham-Medved. The circuit court denied the request, arguing that as the case was set for sentencing there was little communication left to do.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota found that the circuit court erred in denying the motion to withdraw without allowing Abraham-Medved or her attorney an opportunity to establish good cause for the request. The court held that when there is a request for substitute counsel, the circuit court must at least inquire about the reasons for such requests. By failing to do so, the court abused its discretion.Furthermore, the court found that the defendant was prejudiced by this decision as her attorney did not present any sentencing recommendation or argument. Instead, Abraham-Medved spoke on her own behalf. Given the lack of engagement from the attorney, the court found there was a reasonable probability that a different sentence might have been imposed had the attorney properly advocated on Abraham-Medved's behalf.As a result, the court reversed Abraham-Medved’s sentence and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. View "State V. Abraham-Medved" on Justia Law

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In South Dakota, Kenneth Leroy Kurtz pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance. The circuit court determined there were aggravating circumstances that justified a departure from the presumptive probation sentence, and Kurtz was sentenced to five years in prison. Kurtz appealed the decision, arguing that he did not pose a significant risk to the public and therefore should have received probation. Alternatively, he claimed the court abused its discretion by imposing the maximum prison sentence.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reviewed the case and determined that the circuit court had wrongly applied the statute for presumptive probation. The court noted that while the circuit court had identified aggravating circumstances, it had also found that Kurtz did not pose a significant risk to the public. The Supreme Court pointed out that the law allows for a departure from presumptive probation only if aggravating circumstances that pose a significant risk to the public are found.The court concluded that the circuit court's statement that punishment was warranted regardless of whether Kurtz posed a threat to society contradicted the mandate in the statute. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's sentence and remanded the case for the circuit court to issue a sentence of probation. View "State v. Kurtz" on Justia Law