On June 29, Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack (R-29/Union Center) pled a 2020 DUI charge down to careless driving and got a fine and six months probation. Senator Cammack has to complete two and a half more months of probation (and drive safely and soberly to the November Special Sessions—between the ditches, Gary!) to fully earn the suspended imposition of sentence that will seal the record of his guilty plea and remove the conviction from his record.
But it appears that, since I obtained and published this court information, someone decided to give Cammack an early Christmas present and seal his record. KELO-TV’s Tom Hanson went to see for himself if what I reported about our Senate Majority Leader was correct and found nothing but the memory hole:
According to a state website, he was released from jail just a week into the 2020 legislative session on January 19th. The Meade County Clerk of Court’s office tells KELOLAND News the case is sealed and it would take a judge’s order to unseal it. So, it is unclear exactly where he was arrested, why he was arrested, and what time of day it happened.
We reached out to the prosecutor in the case. Alex Weiss is a Deputy State’s Attorney for Pennington County, she tells us because the case is sealed she cannot comment on it. She does say sealing a case is not uncommon in a suspended imposition of sentence and that once sealed, someone would have to petition the courts to unseal it. In other words, it would take a judge’s order [Tom Hanson, “Case Sealed in Arrest of South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack,” KELO-TV, 2021.10.12].
Shannon Marvel, newly ensconced at the Rapid City Journal, offers some legal perspective on sealed cases from Weiss’s boss, Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo:
Vargo spoke generally about a suspended imposition of a sentence for a misdemeanor charge, saying that a person who successfully completes a diversion program can have the case dismissed a year following the completion of the dismissal, then have the case sealed and expunged from their criminal record.
A court case may be sealed if the court is concerned that case records may lead to excessive pretrial publicity and jeopardize fairness for both the defendant and prosecution. Vargo said case files are frequently sealed in cases involving child victims or victims of a sexual offense.
According to the 1993 South Dakota Supreme Court decision, State v. Schempp, the purpose of suspended imposition of sentence is “to allow a first-time offender to rehabilitate himself without the trauma of imprisonment or the stigma of conviction record.”
State law also allows the court to enter an order of expungement, which is defined to mean sealing and not destruction, if the court is satisfied that the ends of justice and the best interest of the public as well as the defendant or the arrested person will be served by the entry of the order [Shannon Marvel, “State Sen. Cammack’s Court Records from Jan. 2020 Arrest Sealed After Details Posted on Blog,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.10.13].
Indeed, we wouldn’t want an elected official in South Dakota to suffer any stigma. Drinking to excess, getting behind the wheel, and endangering public safety during Session—yeah, why would the public have any interest in knowing a Senator did anything like that?
Such is the position taken by the SDGOP spin blog, which has published not one word about this top Republican’s arrest and probation…or, as of breakfast this morning, the South Dakota News Watch story published three days ago about Cammack’s son’s possibly illegal receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars of coronavirus relief dollars. Accountability for South Dakota Republicans? Ha!