South Dakota Searchlight‘s series on Governor Kristi Noem’s soft-on-crime commutations and paroles remind us that the Governor may not be following state law and constitution in protecting victims’ rights:
When Noem has acted unilaterally, victims’ relatives have lost opportunities for notification and input that are built in to the Board of Pardons and Paroles process. After Noem released Whitney Renae Turney on parole, the family of Turney’s manslaughter victim, Calvin “C.J.” Shields, expressed disappointment that they had no notice of the action or opportunity to oppose it.
“My heart sank and my stomach was in knots,” Shields’ brother, Glenn Shields, told South Dakota Searchlight. “I couldn’t comprehend the decision” [Seth Tupper, “Parolee Cited for Exhibition Driving After Noem Reduces Vehicular Homicide Sentence,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.04.07].
The costly and flawed crime victims’ bill of rights that billionaire California dope-fiend Henry T. Nicholas spent millions to write into South Dakota’s constitution in 2016 gives crime victims the right “to be informed in a timely manner of clemency and expungement procedures, to provide information to the Governor, the court, any clemency board and other authority in these procedures, and to have that information considered before a clemency or expungement decision is made, and to be notified of such decision in advance of any release of the offender….” That right and others laid out in Article 6 Section 29 are contingent upon victims’ request. But our statutory crime victims’ rights, which predated and denecessitated Nicholas’s vanity amendment, includes no such “upon request” qualification. Under SDCL 23A-28C-1, the family of Calvin Shields and victims of other crimes have a right “To provide written input at parole and clemency hearings or with respect to clemency by the Governor, should those options be considered” and “To be notified of the defendant’s release from custody….” If Governor Noem didn’t give those victims a heads-up before she decided to hand out her get-out-of-jail-free cards, Governor Noem broke the law.