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HB 1185: Pischke Thinks We’re Too Hard on First-Degree Manslaughter

Law and order? Nah—Representative Tom Pischke wants killers to do less time.

House Bill 1185 would knock first-degree manslaughter down from a Class C felony to a Class 2 felony. Per SDCL 22-6-1, Class C can put a killer in prison for life; Class 2 caps sentences at 25 years. The maximum fine for each level is $50K.

SDCL 22-16-15 defines first-degree manslaughter as any killing committed “without any design to effect death” under any of these three conditions:

  1. while committing any felony other than “arson, rape, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or explosive” (SDCL 22-16-4 makes killings associated with those crimes first-degree murder);
  2. acting “in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner”;
  3. using a dangerous weapon.

Under a fourth criterion, first-degree manslaughter can also snare folks who unnecessarily use deadly force to fight off someone trying to commit a crime (e.g., shooting an unarmed trespasser) or to kill that aspiring criminal after the attempted crime has failed (e.g., shooting an armed trespasser after he falls off your fence, loses his gun, and starts running away).

Representative Pischke is not trying to get distracted driver and unqualified Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg a lighter sentence for the manslaughter Ravnsborg committed on September 12, 2020, when he rammed his car into pedestrian Joe Boever on the shoulder of Highway 14 west of Highmore. Unless we learn that Ravnsborg was texting his dope dealer or snorting coke instead of watching the road, Ravnsborg would face charges of second-degree manslaughter, a Class 4 felony that could put him in the pen for ten years and take $20K out of his sorry hide.

So whom is Rep. Pischke trying to help? Surely he doesn’t want the justice system to go easy on felons whose felonious behavior leads to the deaths of innocents. That wouldn’t square with our pro-life principles. And surely Pischke wouldn’t want to help quasi-accidental killers who act cruelly and unusually.

Maybe House Bill 1185 is a subtle sop to the gun lobby, trying to reduce the penalty gun nuts may face under the third criterion of first-degree manslaughter for recklessly discharging their bang-bangs. Or maybe Pischke has his eye on criterion 4 and its ability to lengthily imprison gun owners exaggeratedly interpreting the castle and stand-your-ground doctrines as an excuse for live target practice.

We’ll have to wait for Representative Pischke to bring this bill to committee to find out what motivates House Bill 1185. But I’m having trouble thinking of any reason that the dangerous folks covered by our first-degree manslaughter statute need lesser penalties.


  1. jake 2021-01-30 11:21

    Curious, isn’t it? Can’t remember anytime the current penalty has been a problem for any judge doing a reasonably expected good job! I would think that a judge would be bringing something that was a problem to the state Supreme Court’s head justice to carry forth to the legislature with a little legal weight behinf=d the bill.
    Nefariousness seems to be in the air!
    Is Guiliani hanging out in Pierre @ our fenced mansion?

  2. Jim Leach 2021-01-30 12:34

    I don’t purport to know the politics of this, but South Dakota, as far as I know, is the only state that authorizes life imprisonment (and all sentences to life imprisonment in South Dakota are without parole) for first-degree manslaughter, even if the offender has no prior record. In my opinion this is far too harsh. First-degree murder is automatic life without parole. Second-degree murder is automatic life without parole. First-degree manslaughter is probation to life without parole, in the discretion of the judge. In my opinion that is too much discretion for a sentencing judge. 25 years is an extremely long potential sentence all by itself.

    Jim Leach

  3. Eve Fisher 2021-01-30 15:30

    (1) It’s important to remember that ALL life sentences in SD are without parole.
    (2) And one reason for this bill is that the majority of people who get life for first degree manslaughter are Native American. There are any number of people who kill someone using a dangerous weapon (like a gun), who don’t get first degree manslaughter; on the other hand, I know one, from my volunteer work at the pen, who was sentenced to life for 1st degree manslaughter at 18 for killing a man in a drunken bar brawl. Meanwhile, a former white student of mine got 20 years for killing his father. No racism, of course. Nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving along.
    (3) Personally, I support this bill 100%.

  4. Dicta 2021-01-30 16:52

    I support this bill too.

  5. bearcreekbat 2021-01-30 17:07

    Eve makes some important points. Like Dicta, I agree and support this bill.

  6. jake 2021-01-30 18:31

    Eve Fisher, thanks for putting that light onto this subject. Could be that I might be getting a little jaded in my
    thinking because of the so many bills showing disdain for the intelligence of South Dakotan’s by a mostly one=party government.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-01-31 19:56

    Counsel Leach and our friend Eve both provide reasonable context to understand where this bill could be coming from… if it weren’t coming from an untrustworthy, one-note legislator like Pischke. We shouldn’t let the sponsor’s faults stop us from voting for good legislation… but I will be curious to hear if Pischke hits any of these notes in his testimony on his bill.

  8. grudznick 2021-01-31 20:48

    Like Mr. Nesiba, most all Mr. Pischke does will end up bonked in the head.
    The sponsors of law bills do matter, which is why Mr. Nesiba has molded Ms. Taffy to do his bidding. Both have serious cases of NDS

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