South Dakota no longer only state to saddle counties with all indigent defense costs

South Dakota no longer only state to saddle counties with all indigent defense costs

Gov. Kristi Noem signed legislation this week to create a state public defender office.

The proposal arose from a task force involving legislative and criminal justice officials. When the group convened, South Dakota was one of two states to saddle counties with the entire financial burden of providing legal representation to criminal defendants who can’t afford lawyers. South Dakota had since become the last state in that category.

“A strong criminal justice system supports our American way of life,” Noem said in a press release. “It upholds the rights of our people. That includes the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel.”

The new office will take over a limited set of cases: criminal appeals; “habeas corpus” appeals, which are filed to challenge a suspect’s detention; and child abuse and neglect appeals. Counties will remain responsible for other cases.

The office is expected to cost the state $1.4 million annually but save counties $2.1 million annually. The Legislature additionally included a one-time infusion of $3 million in the bill to help counties cover current indigent defense costs.

In addition to signing the bill passed by the Legislature to create the office, Noem appointed the first three members of a Commission on Indigent Legal Services to provide oversight of the office. That oversight will include appointing a chief public defender.

Noem’s appointees are Larry Long, a former judge and former state attorney general, of Sioux Falls; Heather Lammers Bogard, an attorney at Costello Porter in Rapid City and 2023-2024 South Dakota State Bar president; and Dick Travis, of the May & Johnson law firm in Sioux Falls.

The new law calls for six additional members of the commission to be chosen by the state’s chief justice, president pro tempore of the Senate, speaker of the House, and executive director of the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners.

You can read the full article at South Dakota Searchlight.