Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's deputy web editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
South Dakota is on the brink of making it harder for death-row inmates to avoid their fate.
Sitting on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk is a bill that would limit the number of times people can appeal their serious criminal convictions, reports the Associated Press. It easily passed the House 60-5 on Tuesday. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said that the bill could put South Dakota’s laws in line with 31 other states.
If enacted, convicts could only submit one secondary appeal claiming that a mistake had been made or that their constitutional rights had been violated. Right now, convicts can use appeals to put off their execution for decades.
The AP article mentions the case of Donald Moeller as an example. Moeller has been found guilty -- twice -- for the 1990 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. His continued filing of appeals, however, has kept him alive. And as of Sept. 2011, the state had spent nearly $1.5 million on Moeller’s case and incarceration, according to the (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader.
"When you think of the money spent on death penalty cases in South Dakota, and we've executed what, one person, in 60 years, doesn't it make more sense to use those dollars to pay for more law enforcement, or to provide services to families of murder victims?" Travis Schulze, coordinator of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said to the Argus Leader.
The bill not only limits the number of appeals convicts can file, but the time frame they have for doing so. Convicts would have two years from the date of the first appeal’s decision to file a secondary appeal -- unless new evidence was discovered.
As state Rep. Brian Gosch told AP, the possible law change could speed up executions to occur five to ten years following a conviction.