South Dakota lawmakers talked of home invasions and mass shootings when they strengthened self-defense protections in recent years, but the new laws are being used in scenarios that bear little resemblance to those hypotheticals.
Some situations don’t involve firearms, as with the Rapid City man accused of simple assault for taking down a 12-year-old boy on a playground, or the Mobridge man who’d been rude to a female server and knocked out the bar owner who confronted him about it. In both instances, the defendants claimed self-defense and exercised their right to an “immunity hearing” — a new kind of proceeding, created by the updated “stand your ground” laws, that allows those making self-defense claims to ask a judge to drop the charges before a trial commences.
The South Dakota Unified Judicial System has no way to track the number of immunity hearing requests filed in the state since the law creating them took effect on July 1, 2022. Such requests would only appear on court dockets under a generic term like “motions hearing” or “evidentiary hearing.”
Inquiries from South Dakota Searchlight to more than a dozen local state’s attorney’s offices revealed several cases in which defendants invoked their right to an immunity hearing. Of six cases explored in detail, five saw charges sustained.
Some prosecutors believe the law has done little more than open the door to time-consuming hearings for defendants with no business asking for one. Others see more nuance, and defense lawyers see value in another opportunity to prove a client’s innocence.
Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore is currently pursuing attempted murder charges against a man who allegedly fired on another man through the window of a drug house. The alleged shooter has asked for an immunity hearing, arguing that his target fired first.
Moore called the stand your ground laws “political hogwash.”
“In my cases, it’s drug dealers who are using this law,” Moore said. “Did they want to pass this law to make it harder for me to prosecute drug dealers for shooting at each other?”
The prime sponsor of the first stand your ground bill from 2021 was Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton.
Lawmakers passed a statute that protects “reasonable” acts of self preservation, Jensen said. He hadn’t heard much about its use in courtrooms, but “I think defense lawyers are twisting the meaning,” Jensen said.
The law is meant to exclude people who might defend a house or vehicle where felony crimes – such as drug distribution – are taking place, Jensen said.
In 2021, legislators passed Jensen’s stand your ground law to clear up when, where and under what circumstances someone can defend themselves from real or perceived threats within the state’s borders. The following year, they created pretrial immunity hearings.
You can read the full article at the Louisiana Illuminator.