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Ravnsborg’s Court Punishment Typical of South Dakota’s Lenience for Killer Drivers

In her emotionally charged floor speech supporting the impeachment of killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, Representative Mary Fitzgerald (R-31/Spearfish) said that Ravnsborg’s actions “have misguided the people of South Dakota into thinking that there are two tiers of justice: one for the powerful politicians and one for the average citizen.” Fitzgerald said Ravnsborg has abused his position “countless times” and is unfit to serve as Attorney General.

Impeachment itself is a tier of justice separate from what any average citizen would face, so the question of whether an elected official should be removed from office for breaking the law, killing a man, and lying about it is separate from what punishment that person should receive in criminal court for specific statutory crimes. SDPB looks into the latter question and produces a monumentally detailed and readworthy report finding that Ravnsborg was not treated unusually lightly compared to other drivers who killed pedestrians:

SDPB analyzed data from the Department of Public Safety and combed through crash reports and state court records from 2016 through 2020.

Ravnsborg was among at least 31 other drivers who were not legally intoxicated when they accidentally hit and killed pedestrians during this time period.

Twenty of these drivers — or about two-thirds of them— were not charged with any offense or crime related to their driving.

The remaining 11 drivers were cited for traffic offenses or charged with low-level misdemeanors.

None of the 31 drivers served jail or prison time, and none paid a fine close to the $1,000 imposed on the attorney general. None of them, including Ravnsborg, appear to have been arrested at the scene.

SDPB only analyzed cases within state jurisdiction where drivers are subject to state laws, not tribal or federal statutes.

Tim Rensch, Ravnsborg’s attorney, said he was not surprised by SDPB’s findings.

“It sounds like exactly what I would expect,” he said. “That somebody’s not intoxicated, and those accidents happen, then there are those low misdemeanors to take care of it” [Arielle Zionts, “Ravnsborg’s Punishment, Charges Similar to Others in Comparable Accidents,” SDPB, 2022.04.19].

If Ravnsborg’s treatment in the courts is typical of what South Dakota does to drivers who kill pedestrians, that doesn’t indicate that we should let up on Ravnsborg. That indicates the state has a bigger problem with holding drivers responsible for their actions. And even if prosecutors and the Legislature are going to give sloppy drivers free passes to run over pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users not encased in two-ton hurtling death machines, elected officials have a unique obligation to the public trust that requires they be more careful than the average citizen. When elected officials fail to take that greater care, they should face greater consequences, like losing their elected positions.


  1. Donald Pay 2022-04-20 08:32

    There are “accidents” and then there are accidents. Ravnsborg’s “accident” was not an accident. He had multiple traffic stops over years.
    He had a very clear pattern of distracted driving. His vehicle was like a loaded gun that he was firing randomly. It was just a matter of time and circumstance that he would injure or kill someone. The SDPB study is not worth much. It doesn’t tease out the driving records of the drivers who killed people. Did they all have Ravnsborg’s history of illegal driving? Did they all have Ravnsborg’s record of being coddled for years? I doubt it.

  2. Richard Schriever 2022-04-20 09:27

    Well, the legislature could also make like ND’s lawmakers and add a section to the “riot booster” code that makes it perfectly fine for some upset driver to DELIBERATELY drive their vehicle into a crowd of protestors.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-04-20 09:38

    Bill Janklow’s idea of public radio is an arm of the South Dakota Republican Party and would do whatever it takes to shield that party from scrutiny. Mr. Ravnsborg is not just a killer, he’s a liar, a fascist and member of a pedophile cult who will do anything to protect his military retirement pay grade.

  4. mike from iowa 2022-04-20 10:02

    How often does the state jerk drivers licenses for repetitive violations? I’m guessing they don’t.

  5. Nick Nemec 2022-04-20 10:17

    On the day the misdemeanor charges were announced against Jason Ravnsborg I told the SD press corps that in South Dakota, if you aren’t legally drunk you can run over and kill pedestrians anywhere and escape with no serious consequences. This report confirms the statement I made over a year ago.

  6. bearcreekbat 2022-04-20 10:41

    Some take aways from this story.

    First, the charging decision in every single case has to be based on whatever facts are uncovered by the available evidence. In the SDPB story such evidence is presented for several of the 31 cases that did not result in manslaughter charges and as the story describes the evidence it is pretty clear that the drivers in the described cases did not act recklessly. For example, one fatality involved a trucker driving a semi during a blizzard before sunrise with no evidence that the trucker was distracted or even should have been able to see the pedestrian. Several of the other cases described in the article state there was no evidence the driver was distracted or driving outside the required lane of travel.

    Next, I note that the article seems to suggest that most drivers involved in these accidents were tested for drugs and alcohol before beiung released. That is certainly a difference in how Ravnsborg was treated and shows considerable favoritism by law enforcement handling his case.

    Last, the article initially gives the impression that there were only 31 cases of SD drivers killing a pedestrian during the relevant time period studied and none of these cases resulted in involuntary manslaughter charges. The article doesn’t correct this impression until near the end when prosecutor Moore reported charging a trucker and the owner of a semi, with second-degree manslaughter after evidence indicated a pedestrian was killed due to faulty brakes on the semi that they knew about but did not fix.

    Ravnsborg certainly was treated much more leniently at the scene of the accident than other drivers in the State would have been treated. This treatment appears to be based entirely on his position as a State official and his relationship to a local Sheriff. As for the the prosecutor’s charging decision, in my view law enforcement’s description of the facts of Ravnsborg’s makes it quite different than any of the examples described in the SDPB story linked by Cory. The conclusion that he was treated the same or more harshly than other drivers seems a serious mistake of logic and reason and, instead, seems more like the result of a mistaken conclusion from insufficient data.

    As for the idea that Ravnsborg’s driving record justified a manslaughter charge, that is a slippery slope that ought to be avoided. While most courts agree that the past behavior of an individual can be relevant in a criminal prosecution, that evidence usually goes to the jury issue of the defendant’s intent. Court’s have ruled that a judge is permitted to consider past behavior in deciding the defendant’s liklihood of recidivism when deciding where to sentence a convicted defendant within the range of legally available punishment. Whether the individual is guilty of reckless conduct on a seperate day is simply a completely different issue That decision should be based only on the information available concerning the actual charged crime, not the defendant’s history. Otherwise, we began to convict and punish people for past acts contrary to long standing double jeopardy ideals.

  7. mike from iowa 2022-04-20 11:20

    For example, one fatality involved a trucker driving a semi during a blizzard before sunrise with no evidence that the trucker was distracted or even should have been able to see the pedestrian.

    Back when I first started driving, the semi-driver likely would have been charged with driving too fast for the conditions and failure to stop in an assured clear distance.

  8. Mark Anderson 2022-04-20 17:57

    You know I’ve run over a dog a cat, and into one pheasant in South Dakota. I almost hit a deer, at least I thought it was a deer, could have been an antelope, but maybe it was a shaman dressed as a deer. Who knows for certain. The most interesting one was driving from Aberdeen back to Highmore on the back roads. My wife had her window down on the passenger side as did I, our one year old son was in the back seat. A bird had this timed well or so it thought, it flew in the passenger window and hit the back window almost immediately missing my son by an inch who was safely in his chair. That was the weird one, not Wyoming Outer Range weird, but strange. I never ever hit a person walking or a bike rider although I would have loved to run over a few tractor drivers but thats for another time.
    It’s been noted that in some Republican states now including Florida you can run over demonstrators if your say late for work. So I can’t wait for the next Trump event on our streets when I’m going to a show. What goes around comes around.

  9. grudznick 2022-04-20 18:22

    The Public Broadcasting organization is the last libbie bastion in the governments, and I have no idea why the legislatures don’t just shut it down.

  10. larry kurtz 2022-04-20 19:02

    Same with the American Jewish World Service, right grud?

  11. Chad 2022-06-22 16:52

    Well, pedestrians aren’t unborn so they don’t care.

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