South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) is seeking to keep video cameras and audio recording equipment out of the courtroom during his upcoming trial in connection with a deadly car crash last year, several news organizations reported Wednesday.
According to the reports, Ravnsborg’s legal team this week filed documents with the court objecting to any video or audio recordings of his trial, which is currently scheduled to begin Aug. 26.
Under South Dakota Supreme Court Rule 10-09, judges are allowed to authorize broadcast coverage of a case — but only if all parties to a case consent to the coverage.
“If the court and all parties consent in writing or on the record at least one week prior to the commencement of a judicial proceeding, the court may authorize expanded media coverage of the proceedings,” Rule 10-09(2)(d) reads in relevant part.
Therefore, despite the state supreme court’s nominal allowance of broadcast coverage from South Dakota courtrooms, the rule as written effectively prevents it, since in practice it is extremely rare for all parties to consent to coverage of a case. Some states, such as Arkansas, have similar rules; but other states allow judges alone to decide whether to allow television coverage. In California and New Hampshire, for instance, litigants are allowed to provide input on the decision but do not wield the power to unilaterally shut cameras out of a case. And in some states, such as Iowa, cameras are presumptively permitted in trial courtrooms.
In Minnesota, the judge who oversaw Derek Chauvin‘s recent trial used the novel coronavirus pandemic and a defense request to televise the trial as rationales to allow cameras into the proceeding — despite prosecutors filing an objection in a state whose rules function similar to South Dakota’s. Several news organizations argued that the constitutional right to a public trial is held by the defendant and that prosecutors should not be allowed to unilaterally shut out cameras. The Law&Crime Network provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the case on account.
Ravnsborg is facing three misdemeanor charges for striking and killing 55-year-old Joseph Boever while returning from a GOP fundraiser in September 2020. The embattled attorney general originally claimed he thought he had hit a deer, but authorities have since alleged that Boever’s face went through Ravnsborg’s windshield. Police found the deceased pedestrian’s glasses inside Ravnsborg’s vehicle. Boever’s body was not discovered until the next day, when Ravnsborg returned to the scene in a vehicle he borrowed to get home that nigh — a personal vehicle owned by the Hyde County Sheriff.
Ravnsborg is charged with one count each of careless driving, operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device, and a lane-changing violation. Each of those “Class 2” misdemeanors carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Investigators have contended that Ravnsborg was “distracted” just before the collision, which occurred on U.S. Highway 14. During a cringeworthy interview with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation earlier this year, special agents confronted Ravnsborg with evidence that he was reading websites containing conspiracy theories about then-candidate Joe Biden on his phone right before striking Boever, who was walking on the side of the road with a flashlight.
After authorities made that information public, the judge in the case, John Brown, ordered that state officials remove it from state-controlled internet sites. The judge’s order ultimately gave South Dakota Republicans an excuse to shut down Ravnsborg’s impeachment proceedings; they dubiously said they were afraid to violate the Attorney General’s due process rights by engaging in a political process that is constitutionally separate from the act of criminal prosecution.
An accident report released by the South Dakota Highway Patrol in Nov. 2020 said that drug and alcohol field tests were administered when authorities arrived on the scene the day after the crash, but both results were listed as “unobtainable at time report filed.” A toxicology test taken the day after the crash at 1:30 p.m. came back negative.
“[Ravnsborg] was traveling westbound on US HWY 14. [Ravnsborg] was distracted. [Ravnsborg] entered the north shoulder while traveling westbound. [Boever] was walking on the north shoulder. [Boever] was struck by [Ravnsborg]. [Boever] was carrying a light. The exact time of crash is still under investigation,” the report stated. “The specific distraction is still under investigation.”
Multiple state legislators and Gov. Kristi Noem have called for Ravnsborg’s resignation.
Matt Naham and Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
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