South Dakota lawmakers to decide on vehicular homicide crime bill as AG impeachment proceedings unfold

The Senate is in assembles on the first day of the legislative session on Tuesday, January 11, 2022, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
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Lawmakers once again are trying to make certain vehicular collisions resulting in death have more punitive repercussions.

A new bill introduced this week in Pierre seeks to classify vehicular homicide as a "crime of violence." If passed through the legislature, the measure would add vehicular homicide to South Dakota's list of criminal statutes and define it as grounds to initiate the parole process.

During Tuesday's House session, Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, one of the bill's primary sponsors, conducted a first reading of the proposed legislation. The bill is now pending the House Judiciary Committee's further review. Meanwhile, as this bill moves through the legislative process, lawmakers are also balancing South Dakota's first-ever impeachment proceedings of Ravnsborg's role in a September 2020 car crash that killed a pedestrian.

More: Impeachment panel grills Gov. Noem administration for handling of AG Jason Ravnsborg's crash case

Former AG's failed attempts at tighter punitive measures

The proposal is an offshoot of a 2017 Senate bill, Hoffman said, brought forth by former AG Marty Jackley in response to a 2013 fatal drunk driver incident in Pickstown resulting in the deaths of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers.

In South Dakota, vehicular homicide is considered a non-violent crime carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The driver, Ronald Fischer, was originally charged with first-degree manslaughter and vehicular homicide, but convicted of the latter.

Fischer was sentenced to two counts of vehicular homicide with 15-year maximum for each. Hoffman said prosecutors at the time wanted to charge the driver with manslaughter "in the worst way," but the law didn't allow it at the time.

More: AG wants to stiffen penalty for vehicular homicides

The legislation had previously cleared the House and Senate in 2017, but didn't make it through review from a conference committee, Hoffman said. He hopes the legislation will pass this time around so prosecutors have a tool in their box to use in similar aggravated cases with speeding, drugs, drunk driving and numerous DUI's to "charge manslaughter with a vehicular homicide charge killing someone."

What happened in the Ravnsborg crash:

Ravnsborg, however, was originally charged with three traffic misdemeanors for the incident: operating a vehicle while using a mobile or electronic device, a lane driving violation for driving outside of his lane and careless driving.

He pled guilty to two of those charges, while the third charge for careless driving was dropped.

More: Judge finds Ravnsborg guilty on two charges; family of victim 'not satisfied'

The state's top law enforcement official did not face manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges.

State's attorneys from Hyde and Beadle counties, who were overseeing the case, accredited that at the time to a lack of provable facts to merit those charges.

Rep. Carl Perry, R-Aberdeen, one of the bill's sponsors, noted the proposed law still has a long-ways to get approval. The bill is pending review from the House Judiciary Committee, and would have to pass the floor, Senate committee, the Senate and finally, to Gov. Kristi Noem's desk to become South Dakota law.

"I'm not a 100% sold on the bill," said Perry. "Rep. Hoffman has done a lot of research on it, so I'm anxious to get it on the floor and listen to it."

More: Investigation committee expected to release new docs detailing AG's fatal crash: What we know

Email human rights reporter Nicole Ki at nki@argusleader.com or follow on Twitter at @_nicoleki.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: South Dakota House bill would bring repercussions from deadly crashes

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