Attorney general tries once more to reduce use of presumptive probation in South Dakota courts

Capitol News Bureau
Jason Ravnsborg

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Last year, South Dakota’s freshly elected attorney general wasn’t able to convince enough members of the Legislature to overturn the state law that limits who gets sent to state prisons.

Now, with a year under his belt, Jason Ravnsborg is trying again — somewhat. Rather than seeking an outright repeal, the Republican is now trying to limit when, and how frequently, circuit judges can use presumptive probation.

The attorney general has pre-filed two bills, SB 6 and SB 7, that would do that.

“The intent of Senate Bill 6 is to curb issues which hinder our law enforcement professionals and the intent of Senate Bill 7 is to keep presumptive probation from becoming a revolving door for  defendants,” Tim Bormann told KELOLAND News. He is chief of staff for the attorney general.

Presumptive probation directs that circuit judges should consider sentencing lowest-level felons — Class 6 and Class 5 — to probation for many crimes, rather than send them to prison. The state prisons system is full.

Ravnsborg saw the Senate reject his 2019 repeal, voting 18-12 against it. The Legislative Research Council estimated that prison populations would directly grow by 282 the first year without presumptive probation.

The Legislature opens the 2020 session Tuesday, when Governor Kristi Noem delivers her second State of the State speech.

SB 6 would add this sentence to state law: “For the purposes of this section, it is also an aggravating circumstance if the court determines the person failed to cooperate with law enforcement in an ongoing investigation.”

Ravnsborg’s legislation reflects arguments from law enforcement officers and county prosecutors that they lose leverage in drug cases because of presumptive probation.

“Cooperation with law enforcement has dramatically decreased in the wake of the 2013 passage of SB 70. Currently there is little to no incentive for an individual to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information regarding the source of illegal substances because those charged know that they will be getting presumptive probation,” Bormann said.

“This bill proposes to allow our courts to view a failure to cooperate with law enforcement as an aggravating circumstance which may not allow presumptive probation,” Bormann continued.

SB 7 would limit criminals to two uses of presumptive probation in a 10-year span.

“South Dakota already has codified law in place for individuals who commit multiple incidents of violations like simple assault or driving under the influence,” Bormann said.

“This bill proposes to take the presumption of probation off the table for a third or subsequent violation with a 10-year time frame,” he continued, explaining the goal it to reinforce there are consequences for criminal activity.

Ravnsborg;s office released a statement from him Friday about their package of six bills. Others filed so far are SB 25, SB 26 and SB 27.

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