South Dakota Criminal Laws

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 What are Criminal Laws?

Criminal laws are those laws that are meant to punish wrongdoing and to compensate victims of crime. Criminal laws regulate behaviors that are considered to be offenses against society, the state, or the public, even when the victim is one individual. 

If criminal laws are violated, the offender may face a loss of freedom by a sentence of jail or prison time. They may also be forced to pay criminal fines. 

In the United States, whether the defendant is accused of a minor crime or a serious offense, they have the right to a trial, as well as other other legal protections, including the presumption of innocence.

What is “Criminal Law Procedure”?

Criminal law procedure is the procedure by which criminal cases are resolved. There are only 2 entities that can bring criminal cases against an individual, the federal government or a state government. For this reason, cases will be styled U.S. v. John Doe or State v. John Doe

Each state has its own set of criminal laws. However, a defendant is entitled to certain Constitutional rights no matter the charge or the jurisdiction. These include:

What are Some Common Criminal Charges in South Dakota?

In states across the United States, crimes are classified as felonies or misdemeanors. South Dakota has nine felony classes. The following list outlines the classes, their maximum sentences, and an example in each category:

  • Class A, punishable by death or life imprisonment with no lighter sentence and up to $50,000 in fines;
    • First degree murder;
  • Class B, punishable by life imprisonment with no lighter sentence and up to $50,000 in fines;
    • Second degree murder;
  • Class C, punishable by life imprisonment and up to $50,000 in fines;
    • First degree manslaughter;
  • Class 1, punishable by up to 50 years imprisonment and $50,000 in fines;
    • Second degree rape;
  • Class 2 punishable by up to 25 years imprisonment and $50,000 in fines;
    • Second degree burglary;
  • Class 3, punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and $30,000 in fines;
    • Aggravated assault;
  • Class 4, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and $20,000 in fines;
    • Second degree manslaughter;
  • Class 5, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and $10,000 in fines; and 
    • Making a terrorist threat;
  • Class 6, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and $4,000 in fines;
    • Internet gambling, the first offense.

Felonies in Class A, B, and C, have no statute of limitations, or time limit in which charges may be filed, in South Dakota. All other felonies listed above have a 7 year statute of limitations.

There are only 2 classes of misdemeanors in South Dakota, Class 1 and Class 2. Class 1 is the most serious and may include punishment of up to 1 year imprisonment and up to $2,000 in fines. 

Examples of Class 1 misdemeanors include:

  • 1st degree petty theft;
  • Unauthorized operation of a vessel or vehicle;
  • Failure to remove a public nuisance; and
  • Possession of prohibited substances for the purpose of intoxication.

Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment and up to $500 in fines. The court may impose a sentence which includes fines, jail time, or both. 

Examples of Class 2 misdemeanors include:

  • 2nd degree petty theft;
  • Public indecency;
  • Disorderly conduct; and
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia.

What are Some Common Criminal Law Defenses in South Dakota?

An individual who commits a crime is known as a defendant. The defendant may present defenses which may excuse or justify criminal behavior and which will result in a reduction of charges or prevent a criminal conviction.

Common criminal law defenses in South Dakota are the same as those across the United States. They include:

  • Self-defense;
  • Duress or necessity;
  • Insanity;
  • Intoxication;
  • An alibi;
  • Entrapment; and
  • Mistake.

A defendant may present the self-defense defense in instances where they were not the aggressor, whether their reaction was a reasonable response to a threat, and when they believed they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Although this defense may be difficult to prove in some cases, if successful, it may result in an acquittal.

Duress is a defense that a defendant can present to a crime committed under the threat of serious bodily injury or death. Necessity, also called the lesser harm defense, occurs in cases where the defendant must take action to prevent serious bodily injury or death. These defenses are not commonly used.

If a defendant suffers from a severe mental defect or illness, they may be able to plead insanity. This is because they are unable to form the willful intent that is necessary to commit a criminal offense. This defense is difficult to prove and requires expert testimony. It typically results in commitment to a medical facility for treatment.

Generally, intoxication does not provide a defense to criminal charges. However, if a defendant can show that the influence of drugs or alcohol made them unable to be guilty of intentionally committing the crime due to their diminished capacity, intoxication may justify a reduced charge. If however, a defendant was intoxicated involuntarily, such as having a drug put in their drink unknowingly, it may provide a total defense. 

In some cases, the defendant may present an alibi, or a reason that they were unable to commit the crime. An alibi supports a claim of actual innocence. If the alibi does not show it was impossible for the defendant to commit the crime, it may at least create reasonable doubt about their guilt.

The law prohibits entrapment, or a situation where a law enforcement officer induces or persuades an individual to commit a crime that they otherwise would not have committed. If the defendant can prove entrapment occurred, they will not be convicted of the crime, even if they actually committed it. This defense is difficult to prove because it relies on the testimony of law enforcement and the criminal defendant, and juries are more likely to find a law enforcement officer’s testimony credible.

There are two types of mistakes, a mistake of law and a mistake of fact. Not knowing or understanding a law does not excuse or justify criminal behavior and individuals can be convicted of committing crimes they were not aware were crimes.

A mistake of fact, however, may be an effective defense. For example, if an individual mistakenly takes another individual’s handbag, thinking it was their own, they may avoid theft charges.

Does South Dakota Have any Special Criminal Laws?

Yes, South Dakota has a habitual offender law for felony convictions. This means individuals who are convicted of multiple felonies will receive additional penalties. 

If a defendant is convicted of a felony and they already have 1 or 2 prior felony convictions, their sentence will be increased to the next severity level. If a defendant is convicted of a felony and they have 3 or more prior felony convictions, their sentence will increase by two levels, up to a maximum level of a Class C felony. If a defendant is convicted of a felony and has 3 or more felony convictions and at least 1 was a violent crime, their sentence will automatically increase to that of a Class C felony.

Should I Hire a South Dakota Criminal Lawyer to Help Me with My Case?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced South Dakota criminal defense attorney to help you with your criminal case in South Dakota. Criminal convictions can have serious effects on your life, the life of your loved ones, and your bank account. 

Criminal laws can be complex. Criminal charges can be scary and intimidating. An attorney can review your case, determine if there are any defenses available to you, and represent you during any court proceedings. It is important to remember that it is your right to have an attorney if you are charged with a crime.


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