The first impeachment trial in South Dakota history begins today in the Capitol in Pierre as the State Senate decides whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will be removed from office and banned from holding any state office in the future.
Ravnsborg hit and killed a pedestrian, 55-year old Joe Boever of Highmore, in 2020, then last year pled guilty to a pair of misdemeanors in the case.
The South Dakota House in April, by the minimum required majority, passed 2 articles of impeachment that charged him with crimes related to the accident and with malfeasance for allegedly using his office to try to interfere with the investigation.
It will take 24 senators, or two-thirds of the 35 total, to convict Ravnsborg, a first-term Republican who isn’t seeking reelection. Republicans hold 32 of the 35 seats in the Senate and 62 of the 70 seats in the House.
For the 2-day trial, impeachment prosecutors and Ravnsborg’s defense attorney each have one hour for an opening statement, 4 hours for witness testimony, and 1 hour to close their arguments.
Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo, who is leading the prosecution, plans to present in-person witness testimony by crash investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, as well as former members of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation.
The DCI was not involved in the crash investigation since it’s under the attorney general’s oversight, but one former agent told the House impeachment committee he
fielded questions from Ravnsborg about what could be extracted from his cellphone while another said he was asked about polygraph testing.
Defense attorney Mike Butler has said he won’t call any witnesses, apparently not even Ravnsborg – who did not testify before the House committee or in court on his criminal chargers. Butler says he will rely on oral arguments and cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Ravnsborg has said he respects the House process but is looking forward to the Senate trial where he believes he will be vindicated. He argues that Gov Kristi Noem “politically weaponized” his accident to drive him from office.