PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen is asking state lawmakers for help in rehabilitating young adult offenders.
Jensen wants to bring together state government’s three branches and many others in South Dakota in addressing rehabilitation barriers. It would be an expansion of a current project, he said Wednesday in the annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature.
“The legislation does not request additional funding at this time. Instead, it is designed to bring public attention to these issues and create an established and recognized process for collaboration and problem-solving of these challenges within the criminal justice system,” Jensen said.
The chief justice also asked the Legislature to approve another circuit judge for the Second Circuit, for a total of 46 statewide, and for lawmakers to back a measure calling for a study of South Dakota’s varied approaches to defending indigent persons in court. He said county governments paid out $21 million in indigent-defense costs during the past fiscal year.
“We are one of few states that does not have any centralized system for management of indigent defense cases. Many states have an independent board or other governmental entity responsible for overall management of the public defender system on a statewide basis to contain costs, manage caseloads, and ensure the appointment of competent counsel,” Jensen said.
He asked the Legislature to respect the constitutional separation of powers and allow the South Dakota Supreme Court to decide whether changes are necessary in how lawyers are admitted to the South Dakota Bar.
A study group began meeting last year and will continue its work on the topic in 2023, he said. Legislation that would restore South Dakota’s diploma privilege for bar admission was defeated last year.
Regarding a legislative proposal this year to ask voters in 2024 to change how circuit judges are elected, Jensen asked the Legislature for time so that the possible change could be discussed within the state’s Unified Judicial System and among circuit judges.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck, a lawyer and Republican from Watertown, said he talked with the chief justice about the potential ballot measure before session began. Schoenbeck said Jensen wants to see what circuit judges think about the proposal.
Jensen updated lawmakers on the courthouse security project that’s been underway. He said 16 counties have put courthouse security committees in place and expects to at least double that number in the next 12 months.
He concluded his remarks, “None of us in the court system take the resources we have been provided or trust of our citizens lightly. As such, we will continue our work in the court system and will remain accountable to the other two branches of government, and most importantly, the citizens of South Dakota.”