SD House Committee Advances Bill Creating State Commission For Indigent Defense


     The South Dakota House State Affairs Committee has unanimously advanced a bill creating a state commission to provide legal representation for those without the ability to pay. 

      Pennington, Meade, and Minnehaha are the only South Dakota counties with a dedicated public defender office, The other 63 counties rely on a patchwork of contracted attorneys for indigent defense

       The statewide commission was recommended by a special task force appointed by Gov Kristi Noem and Chief Justice Steven Jensen, who would appoint its members.

       The commission would research how to best manage the need of indigent services against the reality of South Dakota’s pool of available lawyers, especially since many indigent cases are complex, violent crime cases that require specialized attorneys.

      State Court Administrator Greg Sattizahn, testifying on behalf the chief justice before Friday’s vote, told the panel that South Dakota is one of only 6 states with no statewide legal entity that coordinates legal defense

     Sattizahn said counties spent about $22 million dollars providing indigent defense in fiscal year 2022, but that the current system can’t track if appointed attorneys are charging the counties appropriate amounts or guarantee that qualified attorneys are available.

        Noem’s general counsel, attorney Katie Hruska, told the committee that funding for the commission is in her proposed budget and that the governor agrees the commission is the best solution to the problem. 

      Only one person testified against the bill, a Rapid City man, who described it as “sharia compliancy” – a reference to Islamic law – and a new tax on South Dakotans.