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Adult (Criminal) Court


This information is not intended to be comprehensive or to interpret all laws relating to the adult process. It is intended to be a short, informational statement of basic points applying to criminal cases.

In South Dakota, criminal court is where a juvenile’s case has been transferred to adult court or a person over the age of 18 has been charged with a crime which would constitute a felony.

A felony charge in South Dakota is one which carries a sentence to the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Because of this, it is strongly encouraged that you contact an attorney to make sure you completely understand the severity of the situation you are in. if you wish, you may represent yourself, but understand that no court personnel can give you advice or legal assistance.


You will be advised of your rights in the courtroom. If you do not understand these rights, it is important for you to tell the Judge so they can be explained to you in more detail.

1. One of your rights is to have an attorney present. The Court may give you time to talk to and hire an attorney of your choice if requested. If you can’t afford to hire your own attorney, the Court will appoint one for you. You will need to complete a financial form to make sure you qualify. You may be required to reimburse the county for all or part of the costs of the court-appointed attorney or even have a lien filed against you.

2. You have the right to a speedy, impartial trial either before a judge or before a jury.

3. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

4. You have the right to use the “compulsory process” of the Court. This means you have the right to call witnesses on your behalf, and to have the Court issue subpoenas to require witnesses to appear. You also have the right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses against you.

5. You have the right against self- incrimination. This means you may remain silent. You do not have to answer questions asked of you, and you do not have to testify against yourself.

If you admit guilt or are found guilty by trial, Court will then pronounce a sentence or give you a consequence for this action. In some cases, the Court may request a Pre-sentence Investigation (PSI) to aid the Court in making an informed decision as to what sentence should be imposed. In most cases in this circuit, the Court has sufficient information to proceed and the PSI is waived.

The Court has many options they can impose depending upon factors such as the seriousness of the charge, prior records, etc... The most severe punishment could be a sentence up to the maximum period allowed by statute of incarceration in the South Dakota State Penitentiary, plus the maximum amount of fine provided by statute. However, the majority of cases consist of a person being placed on probation with the Court Services Department, under specific terms and conditions.


If the Court gives you a Suspended Imposition of Sentence or a Suspended Execution of Sentence, you will be placed on probation. The following is a brief summary of each type of sentence:

Suspended Imposition of Sentence

When a person has been placed on a Suspended Imposition of Sentence, the Judge has found that there is sufficient evidence to find the person guilty, but the case is put on “hold”. The Court continues and imposes conditions such as probation or incarceration for up to 180 days in the penitentiary or county jail. However, with a Suspended Imposition of Sentence there is no felony conviction or interruption of a defendant’s civil rights. During the probation period they may not possess, purchase or receive any firearms or ammunition or serve on a jury. Depending on the offense pled to or found guilty of, these rights may be returned, when the probationary period terminates. The only people who will then have access to your record would be law enforcement, prosecutors, or others entrusted in the welfare and protection of the public.

Felony probation of any type is an alternative to incarceration and a privilege, not a right. Failure to abide by the rules of probation can result in termination of that privilege and more severe consequences imposed.

Suspended Execution of Sentence

A person placed on a Suspended Execution of Sentence has been sentenced to a term of incarceration in the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and the Judge has allowed the individual to serve that term in the community, subject to the conditions of probation. A person placed on felony supervision cannot state they have never been convicted of a felony.

They are eligible to register to vote upon completion of probation. The right to serve on a jury can only be restored if the Court sets aside and dismisses the accusation against you. A person convicted of a felony has lost the right to purchase, possess, or receive firearms, unless relief is granted through making an application to the federal government agency of the Bureau of Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. A person must be off probation for a minimum of five years and could be up to 15 years (depending on the offense you pled to or have been found guilty of) before they can make application to have their conviction expunged, set aside, or pardoned by the Governor. A felony conviction can affect certain occupations that require licensing, or present or future enlistment in the Armed Forces.

People placed on probation are required to give a saliva for a DNA sample. They may also be required to give breath/blood or urine samples. Travel or moving out of state will be limited.

Probation is a privilege – not a right!

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