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South Dakota Court Records

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How Does The South Dakota Supreme Court Work?

The South Dakota Supreme Court is the court with the highest judicial authority in the state. It is the court of last resort for all appellate actions and has final authority on all legal and judicial issues in the state. Any further appeals go directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Unlike most states with a three-tier judicial system, South Dakota has a two-tier system - the Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts. Although the nature of its jurisdiction is primarily appellate as provided for in Article 5 of the South Dakota Constitution, the court also serves other functions such as:

  • Issuing original or remedial writs to hear matters
  • Assuming original jurisdiction in matters covering state interests
  • Rendering advisory opinions upon request to the Governor of the State, on the exercise of executive power
  • Exercising appellate jurisdiction over Circuit Court decisions
  • Making rules governing practice and procedure for all state courts
  • Controlling the admission to, and discipline of members of the state bar
  • Administering the South Dakota Unified Judicial System
  • Developing the budget for the state courts

Note that in exercising its appellate jurisdiction as an appeal court, the South Dakota Supreme Court does not hold a hearing. Rather, it sits to review the Circuit Court’s decision.

In South Dakota, all parties to a suit have the right to appeal from the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is mandated by law to consider all appeals.

Notwithstanding the above, the law also clearly spells out instances where appeals from a Circuit Court may be considered. Chapter 15–26A–3 of the South Dakota Codified Laws specifies the following:

  • A judgment;
  • Court Orders which affect a substantial right, and is capable of deciding a suit in a way that prevents the possibility of an appeal; 
  • An order granting a new trial;
  • Any order that affects a substantial right either made in a special proceeding or upon summary application in a matter after judgment;
  • An order which grants, refuses, or alters any remedies relating to arrest, bail, garnishment, receivership, injunction, deposit, or delivery in court;
  • Any intermediate order made before trial (This is allowable by the Supreme Court in its discretion, without waiting for the end of the trial);
  • An order entered on a motion pursuant to a pleading.

Under the provisions of Chapter 15–26A–3, an unsatisfied party may appeal to the Supreme Court is expected by virtue of15–26A–4 to do the following:

  • File and sign a notice of appeal and ensure its compliance with relevant laws;
  • Complete a docketing statement (for civil appeals) on the appropriate Supreme Court form, and attach the statement of findings and memorandum decisions to the docketing statement;
  • Ensure to serve counsel of the other party with the notice of appeal and docketing statement;
  • File the notice of appeal before the allowed time expires
  • Pay the required fees.

During an appeal, the court may take oral arguments from both parties to make a ruling. Once arguments have been taken, the court would adjourn and give its verdict at a later date. Note that decisions of the South Dakota Supreme Court are binding on all lower courts.

Article V Section 5 of the South Dakota Constitution allows the Supreme Court or any of the court’s justices to issue any original writ that may be heard by the court. However, Chapter 15–25–1 of South Dakota’s Codified Laws limits the instances where the court may exercise original jurisdiction as a trial court. Limitations include matters of prerogative, extraordinary, or general concern. Hence, the Supreme Court must show cause before assuming original jurisdiction.

The South Dakota Supreme Court comprises the Chief Justice and four Associate Justices appointed by the Governor of the State.

To become a Justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, the applicant must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States;
  • Be a South Dakota resident;
  • Be a voting resident in the district, circuit, or jurisdiction of appointment or election; and 
  • Be licensed to practice law in South Dakota.

Where a vacancy exists in the Supreme Court, the Governor may appoint persons nominated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission as stipulated in Article V Section 7 of the South Dakota Constitution.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission provides the standards and qualifications for a judicial office aspirant. The standards generally cover personal attributes, competency, and judicial capabilities.

Generally, the Commission selects two or more qualified persons by majority vote to fill a judicial vacancy. However, the Commission may select a highly qualified applicant by a unanimous vote and send the selection to the Governor. The names are submitted to the Governor alphabetically, along with a copy of all investigative reports relating to each nominee. When the Governor makes an appointment, the appointed justice shall be subject to approval or rejection voting. The vote takes the form of a non-political ballot at the earliest general election. This happens after three years from the date of appointment.

Each Supreme Court Justice serves for a term of eight years. After the expiration, the justice is subject to an approval or rejection mandate via a non-political ballot. Also, the Supreme Court justices elect a Chief Justice from among themselves. The Chief Justice holds office for a renewable term of four years.

A judge may be removed from office by recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. To remove a judge, a complaint must be filed with the Commission and approved by a majority of its members. The Commission only begins an investigation if the complaint is related to any of the following:

  • A violation of the judicial code;
  • Willful misconduct in office;
  • Habitual intemperance;
  • Disability of a nature that interferes with the performance of work;
  • A violation of constitutional provisions or state law
  • Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice
  • Conduct bringing the judicial office into disrepute.

If the Commission finds reasonable cause as a result of its investigations, it may make a recommendation to the Supreme Court for public censure, suspension, removal, or retirement. The Commission then files a certified copy of the recommendation with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The filing also includes a copy of the transcript of proceedings and conclusions. The Supreme Court may then take any action it deems appropriate.

Persons interested in matters heard at the South Dakota Supreme Court may do so by visiting:

500 East Capitol Avenue Pierre, 

SD 57501–5070

The South Dakota Supreme Court does not provide a docket search option for requestors to find cases on its website. However, interested persons may search under the current term tab if the requestor knows the month and year of the hearing. Search results display the case name, title, case type, and docket number.

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