SD House panel seeks limit on inmate appealsPIERRE — A South Dakota House committee endorsed a plan Wednesday aimed at preventing death-row inmates from filing repeated appeals in an effort to delay their executions.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A South Dakota House committee endorsed a plan Wednesday aimed at preventing death-row inmates from filing repeated appeals in an effort to delay their executions.
Although the limits would apply to all serious criminal cases, Attorney General Marty Jackley said the limits are especially needed in death penalty cases. Two men convicted and sentenced to death two decades ago have avoided execution because their appeals are still proceeding through the courts, he said.
Murder victims’ families should not have to wait 20 years to see a death sentence carried out, Jackley said.
“It doesn’t end,” Jackley said. “It’s time to give a fair resolution, but a timely resolution for victims.”
People convicted of crimes in South Dakota can appeal their convictions to the state Supreme Court.
Under the bill, convicts who lose a first direct appeal usually could file only one secondary appeal. State law currently puts no limit on those secondary appeals, called habeus corpus petitions. Those petitions generally argue that a convict’s constitutional rights were violated, and they often contend the person’s previous lawyers made mistakes.
The bill would limit convicts to one secondary appeal, unless new evidence is discovered or an appeals court recognizes a new constitutional right that would apply to the case. Those secondary appeals also would have to be filed within two years of when the first direct appeal was decided or new evidence was discovered.
“At some point, there needs to be finality. I would suggest this would give it fair and reasonable finality,” Jackley said.
The attorney general said the bill’s limits on secondary appeals are the same as those applied in 31 other states and the federal court system. If those limits were in place in South Dakota, an execution could probably take place within five to 10 years after a conviction, he said.
Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, whose son, Donnivan, was killed during a 1992 burglary of a Rapid City doughnut shop, told lawmakers to adopt the changes. Peggy Schaeffer said the man convicted and sentenced to death for her son’s murder, Charles Russell Rhines, is using secondary appeals to manipulate the judicial system and delay his execution.
“It’s almost as if Donnivan never existed,” she said. “Well, he did. This is why we are here today, waiting for justice.”
Jackley also noted that Donald Moeller was sentenced to death for the 1990 rape and killing of 9-year-old Becky O’- Connell of Sioux Falls, but Moeller’s appeals continue.
“There has been no justice for the death of that 9-year-old girl,” Jackley said.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 10-3 to send the bill to the full House.
Rep. Mark Feinstein, DSioux Falls, voted against the bill, suggesting that the state’s legal costs would be lower if murderers were sentenced to life in prison instead of death.
Supporters said the measure protects the rights of convicts but avoids unnecessary repeated appeals.
“Families should not have to wait, and South Dakotans should not have to wait for decades to see justice,” said Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton.