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Blog Publishes Senator’s DUI Arrest Record, Down-Plea, and Punishment; Court Seals Record

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!


  1. larry kurtz 2021-10-14

    Nothing surprises me about Republican despoilment of South Dakota politics anymore. Think Dan Lederman.

    But it is strictly voyeurism that Powers is even covering the Howard primary bid or Bruce Whalen’s feinting a run against John Thune. Powers doesn’t care about truth because it’s all about the money to him.

    Two term Republican US Representative Howdy Doody Dusty Johnson has shown himself to be a moderate while wearing his heart on his sleeve but often brings home just a little too much pork for the tastes of the Howard wing.

  2. mike from iowa 2021-10-14

    magat pols in South Dakota are too often treated like children of wealth, no punishment and forced to accept no responsibility. No wonder they seem to be recidivists.

  3. Loren 2021-10-14

    We are going to have to start a binary system of traffic enforcement, one for Dem/Ind and one for GQP. Speed limit D/I 75, GQP 95. Breathalyzer: D/I .04, GQP 2.0. D/I, proper lane usage required / GQP, “What’s a lane? Would you like to use MY car?” D/I, public shame / GQP, sealed records, nobody’s business. I think I spotted a trend.

  4. Porter Lansing 2021-10-14

    South Dakotans, in general, put WAY to much emphasis on “being embarassed”, in public.

    When I moved away, I was fascinated by the openness that people around the country have about their personal life, because this fact is known.

    People rarely think of others and spend 95% of their thought thinking about themselves.

    Thus, “Don’t be concerned with what people think about you. They rarely do.”

  5. Nick Nemec 2021-10-14

    I hope enterprising reporters already have in their possession all court documents in the Jason Ravnsborg misdemeanor convictions for the killing of Joe Boever. They are probably next in line to be hidden.

  6. 96Tears 2021-10-14

    Sealing court documents must have some limits, right? For instance, word circulated very widely in and outside the legal community in the last 18 months about a spouse filing a marital case against a well known Republican office holder. Yet, a thorough search of clerks of court throughout the state revealed no such document(s) existed. If they do exist, what authority would a judge have to seal a marital case before it gets to a hearing? Can (or do) hearings in such matters be held secretly? Looks like an issue for serious study and corrective legislation.

    No question that Cammack expected and received a big favor here. This stinks, just like the $1 million in COVID assistance from South Dakota going to the Senate Majority Leader’s son’s Texas taxidermy business.

    I agree with Mr. Nemec. Ravnsborg is probably shopping for a judge to expunge his record and favorable treatment by the Hyde County law enforcement community in the killing of Joe Boever. He has reason to suspect he’ll find a good Republican judge.

  7. ArloBlundt 2021-10-14

    Werll/…Cory, tyhese folks are very special and seem to merit very special consideration by the legal system. Even given that Senator Cammack is a prominent figure in western South Dakota there are some questions here that need explanation. For one, if he’s tried in Meade County court why is he prosecuted by a Pennington County states attorney?? If he’s tried in Meade County he must have been speeding on the very lightly traveled Hi-way n 34 where the local cowboys typically put the pedal to the metal to eat up some highway. You’re a long way from a drink on 34 (maybe two open bars between Fort Pierre and Union Center) so the Senator must have loaded up after adjournment. What time was he arrested? That information might give us an estimate of how many free lobbyist drinks the good Senator gouged before mounting his steed for the long ride home. If its his first DUI, I have no problem with him receiving a suspended imposition of sentence, but is it, indeed, his first DUI? In any event the gregarious Senator Cammack, a hale fellow well met, if there ever was one, has ducked a bullet. We should all be so lucky.

  8. grudznick 2021-10-14

    Indeed, Mr. Blundt. We should all be as lucky as Mr. Cammack, the elder, a hale fellow well met as are all men from Union Center. The first Rhoden Rhangers came from that neck of the prairie, and then spread like weeds in the wind. And there is little doubt that the Messrs. Cammack are both sympathetic to the Rhoden Rhangers, if not card-carrying members.

  9. Jake 2021-10-15

    Was the ‘Lone Ranger’ Rhoden present-in vehicle-perhaps with Cammack when stopped by the HP?

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