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SD attorney general proposes stricter vehicular homicide sentences

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Plans to make stricter sentences for vehicular homicide convictions were called a "clear step forward," Wednesday. Gregg Spindler is the father of Maegan Spindler, who died at the age of 25 when Ronald Fischer, 31, of Lake Andes...

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Plans to make stricter sentences for vehicular homicide convictions were called a "clear step forward," Wednesday.

Gregg Spindler is the father of Maegan Spindler, who died at the age of 25 when Ronald Fischer, 31, of Lake Andes, drove recklessly while intoxicated and killed her and fellow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Employee Robert Klumb, 46, on July 8, 2013, in Pickstown.

Spindler has pushed for DUI reform from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, but called South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley's recommendation a positive step for South Dakota.

"But clearly much more is needed," Spindler said.

This week, Jackley issued his proposals for the upcoming legislative session, which includes stricter sentences for vehicular homicide convictions.

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South Dakota legislators will be in session for 40 days starting Tuesday and continuing through March 29.

Jackley cited the incident in Pickstown, about 5 miles south of Lake Andes, as one of the cases that shows why there should be stricter penalties for vehicular homicide convictions.

Charges of manslaughter were dismissed against Fischer, and he was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide, class 3 felonies, and sentenced to 30 years in prison, 15 years for each count.

However, because vehicular homicide is not a "crime of violence," Fischer will be eligible for parole in nine years, having served only four-and-a-half years per crime, which is 30 percent of the total sentence.

"While it is difficult to place a value on the loss of a human life, serving only a 4.5-year sentence for the brutal vehicular homicide of another human being should carry with it more significance and deterrent value to better protect the public," Jackley said in a press release.

The number of vehicular homicide convictions in South Dakota has remained relatively steady over the past five years, with four in 2015, four in 2014, eight in 2013, four in 2012 and five in 2011.

Jackley did not include a recommendation for a more severe punishment.

Spindler said there must be increased efforts to reduce impaired driving in the first place, saying it is "simply too easy for chronic alcoholics like Fischer ... or binge drinkers to drive drunk in the first place," as the state government is not taking responsibility to enact necessary changes.

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"(The state) has abrogated this responsibility and is seemingly indifferent to the financial burden imposed on local taxpayers and the suffering caused to innocents like my daughter, Maegan, and our family," Spindler said.

Fischer is in the process of appealing his conviction, saying results from blood samples should be suppressed because they were taken without a warrant. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Jan. 13.

Fetal tissue

Although he didn't mention Planned Parenthood, Jackley proposed penalties for anyone who knowingly sells or transfers fetal remains for a profit, an issue which has surrounded the Planned Parenthood organization for months.

"It is my hope that all South Dakotans, whether pro-life or pro-choice, would support limiting and deterring the knowing and for-profit sale or transfer of fetal body parts and tissue in our state. It is my further hope that when the law prohibits specified conduct that we are clear as to what the penalty is when the law is not followed," Jackley said.

The sale or transfer of fetal tissue is generally prohibited by law, the press release said, but there is no specified penalty or crime classification.

Jackley proposed making the sale of such tissue a class 6 felony, consistent with South Dakota's classification for partial-birth abortion violations.

Tribal sex offenders

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Jackley is also requesting tribal sex offender qualified offenses be integrated into the South Dakota registry.

Several South Dakota reservations maintain their own registries, but exchange information with the state registry. These reservations include Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Sisseton/Wahpeton and Standing Rock.

"South Dakota is a national leader in maintaining a sex offender registry that helps parents and grandparents make informed decisions to better protect children," Jackley said. "This proposed legislation will expand these protections further with our tribal partners and will assist registrants in meeting their compliance requirements."

The South Dakota registry is one of the strongest nationally, the press release said. There are 3,438 registrants with a compliance rate of more than 99 percent.

Jackley is also proposing allowing the use of identification cards and additional protections related to immigration documentation.

Fight human trafficking

Lastly, Jackly requests the Legislature to allow profits gained in human trafficking to be forfeited whether the case is prosecuted in state or federal court.

South Dakota law requires a person convicted of specific human trafficking and sex crimes to forfeit any gains from the operations. The proposal would close loopholes and make forfeiture possible in both courts.

"Predators convicted of human trafficking and related sex crimes whether prosecuted by state or federal authorities should not keep either their profits or assets used to harm young women and children. Their profits and assets used to commit these sex crimes should go to help victims and support further law enforcement operations saving taxpayer monies," Jackley said.

Many arrests and prosecutions in these cases are conducted jointly with state, local and federal authorities, the press release said.

Forfeited assets are used to pay for law enforcement operations and to help victims of the crimes.

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