Criminal Justice Reform Law Won't Fix Broken Judicial System

June 28, 2013 12:00 am

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — On Monday, July 1, the South Dakota Public Safety Improvement Act will go into effect. The act is the product of a work group convened by the Governor to come up with suggestions to address issues surrounding over incarceration trends in South Dakota. The act brings significant changes to the drug laws in South Dakota, many of which do not address the issue of over incarceration but rather exacerbate problems.

“Because of the changes to the law, we could see an unnecessary increase in drug related arrests,” said Andrew Knecht, attorney for the ACLU of South Dakota.

The ACLU had argued for the elimination of the altered state law which says a person can be charged with felony drug possession solely based on a drug test indicating the presence of certain chemicals in the blood or urine. Instead of eliminating the altered state law, the Governor and the legislature chose to make it a specific crime.

“We’re disappointed in the change to the altered state law because a person could be charged with a crime simply by failing a drug test,” said Andrew Knecht, attorney for the ACLU of South Dakota. “That person could then be prosecuted under the altered state law even if the police have no evidence of the person actually possessing or using a drug.”

The altered state laws negatively impact families and communities and reach well beyond any initial punishment. The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can deny someone the right to vote, hamper employment opportunities, forecloses possible avenues for education funding and other long term consequences.

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