Vermillion senator wants death-sentence exemption for state’s mentally-ill convicts

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — People who have been found severely mentally ill at the time they committed murders shouldn’t be sentenced to death in South Dakota, according to a state lawmaker.

Senator Art Rusch, a Republican from Vermillion, introduced legislation Wednesday to create the exemption.

It would apply in first-degree murder cases.

SB 64 defines who would be eligible for a pre-trial hearing. They would be people who at the time of the crime had one or more of 11 specific mental illnesses, ranging from schizophrenia to traumatic brain injury.

People with intellectual disability who are accused of murder already qualify for a pre-trial exception hearing under South Dakota law.

Rausch is a retired state circuit judge who served on the bench from 1994 to mid-2011 and sat as an acting state Supreme Court justice on more than 20 cases. He previously served four terms as Clay County state’s attorney. He’s in his sixth year as a senator.

His legislation would apply to crimes committed after July 1, 2020.

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