Supreme Court hears case involving threatening letters sent by prison inmate

Local News

A case involving letters sent by a prison inmate is in front of the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Much of the arguments presented to the state’s high court Wednesday revolved around a couple of words and how they should be interpreted.

While in prison, Joshua John Armstrong sent an envelope to the Compass Center.

The envelope was addressed to PREA or Prison Rape Elimination Act.

That means staff at the prison could not review what was inside the envelope before sending it.

Inside the packet were letters to PREA and then Governor Dennis Daugaard.

In that PREA letter, Armstrong wrote about contemplating raping and killing a mental health therapist, who is being called C.H. in this story.

Armstrong was indicted on one count of threatening to commit a sexual offense, which means he’s alleged to have directly threatened or communicated the specific intent to commit further felony sex offenses.

Armstrong pleaded not guilty, arguing the state didn’t provide sufficient evidence that he directly threatened C.H.

He asked for an acquittal, but it was denied.

He also requested two jury instructions.

One of the instructions was that to find him guilty the jury must determine “beyond a reasonable doubt that he directly threatened or directly communicated specific intent to commit a further felony sex offense.”

His instructions were denied and he was found guilty.

On Wednesday an attorney for Armstrong presented this question to the court.

“What is the meaning of the term directly within this statute and does that term modify both the words “threatens” and “communicates” within that statute?” Armstrong’s Attorney Christopher Miles said.

But the state highlighted a two letter word in the statute.

“They are separated by the word “or.” “Or” is usually used in the disjunctive, meaning a choice between two mutually exclusive things. You either directly threaten or communicate specific intent. It’s an either or situation. And we have that. The state proved that,” Assistant Attorney General Erin Handke said.

The South Dakota Supreme Court will make a ruling at a later date.

You can read part of the letter click here.

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