SD Supreme Court rules 15 years for selling half-gram of meth 'not cruel and unusual'

A Yankton man also asked that he be allowed to deploy a golf ball and smokeless tobacco tin to demonstrate to a jury how much meth could've possibly been on him when an informant bought drugs from him. But the court upheld denying this request.

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PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota man says he should've been allowed to bring a golf ball and chewing tobacco tin to court as a demonstration for how much meth he sold a confidential informant — the state's supreme court disagrees.

Shawn Shelton, a Yankton man, appealed a felony drug conviction that'll land him in jail for at least a dozen years, saying a woman paid $200 by police to buy meth from him brought the drugs to his house herself and that a tin-and-golf-ball demonstration before a jury could help prove his case about how much meth he had in his possession.

The anonymous informant, who'd previously purchased drugs from Shelton, told police after the July 2018 transaction that Shelton appeared to possess a "golf-ball-sized chunk" of meth in a circular container.

But a lower court judge, Cheryle Gering, denied this request for a demonstration and, on Thursday, April 16, a unanimous 5-0 state supreme court agreed with that decision. Justice Janine Kern wrote the "dimensions of the container are not a fact of consequence in this case."

A jury found Shelton guilty of not only possessing and selling meth but also selling within a school zone.


Shelton requested that an agreement the confidential informant signed with law enforcements be made public, but the lower court ruled against this motion. The state's highest court also agreed.

"The disclosure of information regarding CIs is not always appropriate," ruled the court.

Finally, Shelton appealed his sentence, arguing that his decade-plus incarceration was a "cruel and unusual" punishment, even notwithstanding his past drug offenses.

But the high court — defending South Dakota's "harsh" penalizing of drug crimes — argued that Shelton "is a habitual offender with six prior drug convictions." Kern continued, "his sentence for three additional drug felonies, two of which the court permitted to run concurrently while suspending a portion of the third, is not grossly disproportionate to his crimes, or cruel and unusual."

The court noted Shelton could've faced 65 years in prison for selling the half-a-gram of meth, but instead, he could be "released on parole in as few as 12 years."

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