PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A refusal to allow questions about the victim being in the U.S. illegally has led the South Dakota Supreme Court to order a new trial for an exotic dancer and her boyfriend.
A jury found Arianna Reecy of Sioux Falls and Kevin Dickerson of Luverne, Minnesota, guilty of first-degree robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree burglary for their actions on June 19, 2019, after she had asked to borrow money from customer Julio Gomez Rojas of Sioux Falls to pay for food for her children.
The jury also found Dickerson guilty of aggravated assault against Gomez Rojas under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life. The incident occurred at Gomez Rojas’s apartment.
The high court publicly released the decision Thursday.
The justices split 3-2 in ruling that Circuit Judge Robin Houwman erred in the case by precluding any reference to Gomez Rojas’s immigration status and in admitting into evidence an exhibit listing transactions purportedly from Gomez Rojas’s debit card.
“We have not before examined whether or how a witness’s immigration status or efforts to obtain a U-Visa may be admissible to show motive to testify in a certain manner,” Justice Patricia Devaney wrote for the majority.
The court’s full decision and Justice Mark Salter’s dissent can be read here.
Wrote Justice Devaney, “Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that Dickerson and Reecy have a constitutional right to probe into the possible motives influencing Gomez Rojas’s testimony, including not only the circumstances of the alleged assault, but also his denial of any forced sexual contact with Reecy during the incident. It is undisputed that Gomez Rojas is in the United States illegally and that rape is a deportable offense. It is further undisputed that one week after the incident he sought the advice of an immigration attorney and learned that he could be eligible to apply for a U-Visa in the future.”
Chief Justice Steven Jensen and Justice Scott Myren joined Devaney in the decision. Justice Janine Kern joined Salter’s dissent. The justices heard arguments in the appeal on May 24, 2021.
Wrote Justice Devaney, “The State’s case against Dickerson and Reecy depended primarily on whether the jury believed the defendants’ or Gomez Rojas’s versions of what transpired in the apartment. Thus, the State has not established that the circuit court’s error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, Dickerson and Reecy are entitled to a new trial.”