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Accused of molestation, SD Senate candidate could see no jail time after losing election

A proposed plea agreement called for the suspension of all time in jail or prison for Joel Koskan if he pleads guilty to felony child abuse.

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Joel Koskan, a candidate for the South Dakota Senate from District 26, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, with a child abuse charge that alleges sexual misconduct against a family member.
Screenshot / Koskan for District 26
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WHITE RIVER, S.D. — While a South Dakota Senate candidate charged with child abuse relating to molestation accusations lost his election, a proposed plea deal could result in no jail time if he pleads guilty to the felony charge.

Joel Koskan, who ran as a Republican for South Dakota Senate District 26, was defeated Tuesday, Nov. 8, in the race for the lone seat in the state’s upper legislative chamber by a margin of 58% to 42%.

In a race with just shy of 6,000 ballots cast, Koskan jumped out to an early lead, taking a 58% share of the first 1,000 ballots tallied in the first two hours after polls closed at 7 p.m. local time.

However, that lead would begin to diminish as results poured in from more historically Democratic-leaning precincts later in the night. By 10 p.m. local time, Koskan’s lead had been overtaken by Democratic challenger Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, who sought to replace the seat of District 26’s current senator, Troy Heinert, a Democrat from Mission, who had reached a term limit.

Joel Koskan, a Wood resident running as a Republican to represent District 26 in the South Dakota Senate, was charged Thursday, Nov. 3, with one count of felony child abuse for allegedly exposing a minor to a foreseeable harm.

District 26 is composed of all or part of eight separate counties, accounting for a total of 37 precincts. Of those counties, Koskan only won two: Brule by 19 points and Jones by 35 points. The 1,250 votes earned in those two counties resulted in almost exactly half of all votes for Koskan in the race.

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Bordeaux carried the remainder of the counties — most of which are largely rural — most notably garnering 60% of the 491 votes cast in Mellette County, where Koskan resides. Bordeaux also dominated Todd County’s return with 81% of the 1,824 ballots cast there, which accounts for roughly 43% of his entire vote share.

As of Wednesday morning, the specific results of mail-in, absentee and early voter ballots remains unknown.

Bordeaux will serve a two-year term in the Senate, which will remain in control of the Republican party, as it has since 1995.

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Joel Koskan exits a Mellette County courtroom behind his lawyer, Clint Sargent, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. He's charged with felony child abuse after a family member accused him of molesting her over a course of five years.
Austin Goss / Dakota News Now

Defeat comes as proposed plea agreement becomes public

Koskan’s Nov. 8 defeat comes just days after he was formally charged in Mellette County for child abuse after allegations that he molested a family member over a period of five years.

The single felony charge for exposing a minor to foreseeable harm was filed Nov. 3, well after the statutory deadline for a candidate to withdraw and past the point that South Dakota’s early voting period had begun.

Though the charge, a Class 4 felony, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison plus fines of $20,000, a proposed plea agreement became public on Tuesday, outlining the possibility that Koskan could avoid jail time altogether.

A woman told investigators that, from age 14 through 19, Koskan was constantly monitoring her via surveillance cameras and GPS and would "require" the girl to engage in sexual activity with him.

The proposal — dated as early as Sept. 9 though not filed with the court until Nov. 7 — could see Koskan plead guilty to the felony charge in exchange for all possible jail or prison time suspended.

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As part of the potential agreement, Koskan would be required to complete a psycho-sexual evaluation, pay for the cost of therapy of the accuser, continue paying for the family member’s post-secondary education, pay for the family member’s necessary insurance benefits, sign over the title of the family member’s vehicle, maintain no contact and pay all associated court costs.

After the proposal was brought forth to Judge Margo Northrup during Koskan’s initial appearance on Monday, Nov. 7, Northrup said she needed additional time to consider whether she would accept the potential plea agreement.

An arraignment was set to take place in a Mellette County courtroom on Dec. 12. Koskan is out on a $100,000 cash bond.

South Dakota law dictates that individuals currently serving felony sentences are ineligible to hold office as a state lawmaker.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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