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South Dakota Court Records

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How Does The South Dakota Magistrate Court Work?

South Dakota Magistrate Courts are courts with lower judicial authority than the Circuit Courts. There are Magistrate Courts in each of the seven Judicial Circuits in the state of South Dakota.

Magistrate Courts are designed to aid Circuit Courts with the speedy disposition of justice and primarily handle small claims and misdemeanor offenses. The court functions under the direct oversight and supervision of the Circuit Court’s presiding Judge in the relevant Judicial Circuit where the Magistrate Court exists.

Magistrate Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, with jurisdiction dependent on whether the matter is heard by a Magistrate Judge or a “Lay or Clerk-Magistrate.” Lay or Clerk Magistrates are not qualified as judges. For example, a Lay or Clerk-Magistrate is only required to hold a high school or equivalent certificate. The certificate may be issued by the State Department of Education, the former Department of Public Instruction, or the former Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

A Lay or Clerk-Magistrate has the authority to:

  • Solemnize marriages Chapter 16–12C–5;
  • Administer oaths Chapter 16–12C–6;
  • Issue summons and warrants of arrest, seizures, or searches Chapter 16–12C–7;
  • Accept defaults for petty offenses;
  • Try contested cases involving petty offenses;
  • Take pleas of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere for any criminal offense; or
  • Take pleas of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere for violating any ordinance, by-law, or other police regulation of a political subdivision. This is only applicable if the punishment is a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment for a maximum of thirty days, or both;
  • Impose sentences upon pleas of guilty or nolo contendere;
  • Take forfeitures of appearance bonds for a violation of any ordinance, by-law, or other police regulation;
  • Hear non-contested civil actions or small claims proceedings where the amount of money or damage does not exceed $12,000.

 

Where a Magistrate Judge presides over a matter, their jurisdiction and powers are different. These powers include:

  • Solemnizing marriages;
  • Administering oaths;
  • Jurisdiction to issue summons and warrants;
  • Authority to fix bond or take personal recognizance of persons charged with an offense;
  • Accepting defaults for petty offenses;
  • Trying contested cases involving petty offenses;
  • Taking guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere pleas for any criminal offenses; 
  • Taking guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere please for violations of any ordinances, by-laws, or other police regulations. This is only applicable if the punishment is a maximum fine of $2,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of one year or both;
  • Trying cases for all violations under Chapter 32–22–55 that involve civil penalties, notwithstanding the amount;
  • Taking forfeitures of appearance bonds for violation of any ordinance, by-law, or other police regulation of a political subdivision;
  • Acting as a committing magistrate for all purposes;
  • Hearing misdemeanor cases for the violations of any ordinances, by-laws, or other police regulations
  • Hearing all small claim proceedings.

 

Magistrate Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over any action for protective or restraining orders and injunctive reliefs.

 

Magistrate Court Judges are not allowed to decide on:

  • Issue ex-parte protection orders
  • A petition for an award of temporary custody
  • A petition for the establishment of temporary visitation of a minor child
  • A petition that establishes temporary support for a minor child of the parties or a spouse

 

The jurisdiction of the presiding Magistrate Judge covers any small claims matters where the debt, damage, claim, or value of the property is less than $12,000.

 

Upon assignment of the presiding Judge of the Circuit, a Magistrate Judge has jurisdiction to act in lieu of a Circuit Court Judge. This appointment is made for mental illness cases or to preside over adult probationary drug court programs.

Chapter 16–12B–1.1 of the Codified Laws of South Dakota outlines the number of Magistrate Judges in each Judicial Circuit as follows:

(1) First Circuit: Two full-time Magistrate Judges;

(2) Second Circuit: Four full-time Magistrate Judges;

(3) Third Circuit: Two full-time Magistrate Judges;

(4) Fourth Circuit: Two full-time Magistrate Judges;

(5) Fifth Circuit: One full-time Magistrate Judge;

(6) Sixth Circuit: One full-time Magistrate Judge; and

(7) Seventh Circuit: Four full-time Magistrate Judges.

 

Chapter 16–12A–3.3 indicates that the Supreme Court or a presiding Circuit Judge may promulgate rules to appoint a sufficient number of Magistrates as may be necessary. This is to ensure that there are enough judicial officers to help with dispensing justice. 

 

All appeals from the Magistrate Court flow directly to the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court of South Dakota. Unless denied by law, parties are allowed to appeal all orders and final judgments of Magistrate Courts as a matter of right.

 

Magistrates are appointed by the presiding Judge of the Circuit Court and serve at the Judge’s pleasure. However, the Supreme Court may provide that Magistrates may be appointed for a definite term. The presiding judge shall propose qualified persons’ names to the state court administrator to appoint a new Magistrate. 

Before the Magistrate Judge’s appointment, the presiding Judge shall present a resume of the nominee’s qualifications to the state court administrator. The submission should indicate the proposed salary offered and define the geographical area the nominee will serve. Note that the submission should also include the anticipated workload. 

The state court administrator would then send this information to all the members of the court. However, note that the Supreme Court may approve or reject the appointment with or without a hearing.

All persons appointed as full-time Magistrate Judges are statutorily expected to hold office for a term of four years from the Supreme Court’s approval date. Full-time Magistrate Judges may be subject to removal upon recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. However, the removal may only happen after investigations and hearings are concluded.

When investigations have taken place because of an allegation or complaint against a Judge, the Commission sends its recommendation to the Supreme Court for appropriate disciplinary action. 

Persons appointed as part-time Magistrate Judges are appointed by the presiding Judge of the Circuit Court and shall serve at the presiding Judge’s pleasure.

Any requestors interested in South Dakota Magistrate Court records may use the eCourts function provided by the Unified Judicial System. New requestors would first need to register for access.

Interested persons may also search for all civil and criminal cases except those sealed by a court order. Requestors who need these records may use the public access record search option or the Unified Judicial System’s online query system. Access to these platforms may cost varying fees. Requestors may also send an email request to UJSPARSsupport@ujs.state.sd.us. This option is advised for multiple searches.

Alternatively, use the contact information for South Dakota Clerks of Courts to make in-person or mail requests. These requests should contain important case information, including the names, case type, and the approximate case date.

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