PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A panel of state legislators agrees that South Dakota should look at how young adults who commit crimes are handled and at how the state’s courts appoint lawyers for people too poor to hire someone to defend them.
South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen proposed the task forces last week during his State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave its endorsement to both.
The emerging-adults task force would look at barriers affecting offenders ages 18 to 25 and have at least 11 members. The indigent-defense task force would have 13 members. The two groups’ findings would be reported to the Legislature and the governor no later than November 15, 2023.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider both as part of the consent calendar for Thursday. That means neither one will be debated unless a representative requests it.
Representative Scott Odenbach, a Spearfish Republican, called for the committee to endorse the emerging-adults task force. “Sounds like they’re trying to do a good thing,” Odenbach said. The vote was 12-0.
Representative Rebecca Reimer, a Chamberlain Republican, spoke favorably about both proposals. “I like the boldness,” Reimer said, adding that she appreciated the state’s Unified Judicial System is looking for solutions.
The indigent-defense task force likewise sailed through the committee with 11-0 support. State courts administrator Greg Sattizahn said county governments spent more than $20.1 million on indigent-defense costs in the past fiscal year and were reimbursed $728,000. For the prior year, those numbers were $18.4 million and $545,000 reimbursement.
Counties are almost entirely responsible for providing legal counsel for people who can’t afford to defend themselves.
Sattizahn said the counties’ expenses have roughly doubled in the past decade and he expects they’ll double again in less than a decade going forward. “I think the writing’s on the wall for that. I feel very confident in that prediction,” he said.
Representative Mary Fitzgerald, a St. Onge Republican whose husband, John Fitzgerald, was the long-time Lawrence County state’s attorney and won the November election for circuit judge, called for legislators to back the indigent-defense task force.
“I just know that counties do need assistance,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s a great move.”