The National Center for State Courts has an archive of current and prior State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
Through an unnumbered report adopted by both the House and Senate, the South Dakota legislature met in joint session January 9 for the purposes of hearing the State of the Judiciary Address of Chief Justice David Gilbertson.
Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) below the fold.
Substance Abuse Courts
My personal experience and the South Dakota experience are consistent with what is occurring nationally. In the past 20 years, increased costs of incarceration have outpaced every other expenditure by the states. In large part that is because nearly 50% of those who are sent to prison for drug crimes will be arrested for another drug offense within a few years of their release. The revolving door and the State’s open checkbook continue on and on.
We now have five years of experience in operating drug and alcohol courts. During this time period, trends have appeared. The first is that our prison population has increased and will continue to do so in the future unless something of significance changes. The second is that these alcohol and drug courts work in South Dakota and represent an option to an increasing prison population.
To ascertain the number of veterans who come through South Dakota’s courts, I have asked UJS Magistrate Judges and probation officers to monitor the situation. Although the data is not complete, it indicates that there is a problem in South Dakota. While participants in drug and alcohol courts are excl usively felons, preliminary data indicates the veterans who come into our courts are mostly charged with misdemeanors. Because of their current lifestyle, veterans’ future arrests are for the same type of violation. Once again, there is a revolving door.
Cameras in the trial courts
Last year, I discussed the new Supreme Court rule which allows still and video cameras in the trial courts of this state on a regulated basis. At that point, the rule was too new to give you any report as to how it would work. As I noted, “only time and experience will provide the answer.” A year later, we now have sufficient data to say that the rule definitely did not result in a de facto return to an outright ban of cameras in the trial courts.
If I, with a law degree, 37 years in the legal profession, and college Spanish, could not comprehend this judicial document, think how a person with little or no skills in English would do understanding the procedures and consequences of our legal system in South Dakota. For these individuals, interpreters are not a handy convenience. They are a necessity.
Decline of access to attorneys in rural areas
For the past several years I have talked to you about my concern about the decline of the number of attorneys in rural areas of the state. While it might appear to some that talking was about all that was accomplished, the time was wel l spent. It educated the citizens of South Dakota that there is a problem and the significant extent of it.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We have 66 counties and thus 66 links. Unfortunately all too many of the links are on the verge of breaking. Hopefully, our current legal system, which has served us so well, will not become a dinosaur lumbering off into oblivion.
In previous years I told you what the Unified Judicial System hoped to accomplish. This year it is my pleasure to tell you what we have accomplished. We continue to upgrade our entire software system.
Today I have talked about abused children, persons addicted to drugs and alcohol, interpreters, and veterans who have fallen on hard times. As my hunter/philosopher friend Clarence observed, “As a society are we going to pick these people up or pick them off?”