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Miskimins: Prosecutors place priorities on fairness for all

A opinion column from Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins

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In this 2018 file photo, Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins speaks to the South Dakota Council of Juvenile Services meeting at Mitchell Technical College. (Republic file photo)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Mitchell Republic published a story on Oct. 27 regarding the costs of a pending criminal case in Davison County. The following column was submitted by Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins regarding the function of the county State’s Attorney’s office.

The primary function of my office is to prosecute criminal cases in Davison County. As the Davison County State’s Attorney, I am a minister of justice. Citing the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.8, both prosecutors and defense lawyers are criminal justice advocates. A prosecutor has a further, and higher, responsibility to ensure fair process. That’s what makes a prosecutor’s role markedly different from one-sided, defense advocates.

My office prosecutes several thousand misdemeanor, felony, and juvenile charges in any year.

We fulfill our duties with effective efficiency.

Our juvenile diversion program gives kids an opportunity to avoid prosecution for their first mistake or bad choice. We’ve saved Davison County taxpayers over $140,000 in the last two years. Appropriate conditional release, and other solutions, reduce high juvenile detention costs.

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We advise all county officials and provide legal consultation related to their important, official duties.

We get our work done.

Why do I not try cases in the media? As a minister of justice, I represent the People and have a solemn responsibility to assure a fair process.

  • Out of court statements made to the media are not evidence.
  • Juries in South Dakota are instructed that lawyers’ statements are not evidence.
  • Unlike in a courtroom, arguments made to the media are not subject to the evidentiary safeguards assuring fairness and accuracy.
  • A judge, subject to election and re-election, or a magistrate appointed by our presiding judge, presides in an impartial forum where lawyers can object to misleading or untrue statements — thereby assuring a fair and impartial jury is protected from improper, inadmissible, or simply untrue allegations.

Juries have a hard job. Davison County juries consistently take on that job with diligence and fairness to both sides of a criminal case.
That is what is required of a jury.

Obviously, juries must be fair to criminal defendants. Juries must also be fair to the State, that is, to all the people of Davison County. In all criminal matters individual citizens, small businesses, that is the people as a whole, are victims.

Fairness is required under the rule of law. Fairness to both a defendant and to the people.

Our political institutions, courts, legislatures, elected officials, and the very fabric of our Republic are all under attack by a small, but vocal, minority. They believe their personal rights are more important than the people’s rights as a whole. Under the rule of law that is not the case; that is not an acceptable, accurate, or appropriate construct under our Constitution and laws.

I was appointed to this office in December 2012, and have been elected three times to serve as Davison County State’s Attorney. It has been my privilege to fairly and impartially serve all the people.

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I have prosecuted, and will continue to prosecute, cases showing probable cause that criminal action has been taken against a public board. Protecting the orderly operation of public boards, committees, and assemblies, and those who serve thereon, is fundamental to the rule of law. Turning a blind eye to scofflaws who interfere with those boards discourages bright and talented individuals from stepping forward to serve the people. When anyone takes action based on the misguided conclusion that their personal rights are more important than the rule of law and the rights of the people as a whole, I will do my job to protect, and preserve, the Constitution and laws of the United States. There is an orderly, accepted, and time-honored practice to establish law. We freely and fairly elect representatives to do so. No individual has the right to make his or her own opinion paramount to settled law.

I have prosecuted, and will continue to prosecute, cases showing probable cause that a criminal act has been taken against law enforcement. Protecting our law enforcement agencies, and the bright, brave, and talented men and women who protect and serve the people, is fundamental. When anyone takes action based on the misguided conclusion that their rights, or their opinions, allow them to ignore the law, I will always do my job.

Our Constitution, our civil society, and the rights of the people as whole demand nothing less.

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