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SD Supreme Court rules ‘stand your ground’ law doesn’t apply

PIERRE, S.D. — The ‘stand your ground’ state law doesn’t apply retroactively, according to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The court publicly released the decision Thursday, ruling that a convicted killer couldn’t use the law to go free.

Ramon Smith shot one man to death and wounded two others on June 8, 2019. A Minnehaha County jury found Smith guilty of second-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault. Circuit Judge Bradley Zell sentenced him to life in prison, as well as three 25-year terms.

While Smith awaited trial, the 2021 Legislature passed a new law titled “Clarify the use of force.” Commonly known as ‘stand your ground,’ it provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability in most instances when a person uses or threatens force in defense against another person who has used or threatened force.

After the law took effect July 1, 2021, Smith asked for dismissal of the criminal charges. Judge Zell denied the request, saying the new law didn’t apply retroactively. Smith asked that it be reconsidered and was turned down a second time.

Smith’s appeal of the circuit judge’s decision marked the first time that the South Dakota Supreme Court considered the ‘stand your ground’ law. Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote the high court’s unanimous decision that went against Smith.

“Unlike a statute of repose, which provides immunity after the passage of a legislatively determined amount of time, the self-defense immunity statute creates a presumptive right of immunity that precludes the State from arresting or commencing a criminal prosecution against a person who claims immunity,” Chief Justice Jensen wrote.

He continued, “The statute does not merely ‘regulate the steps’ of prosecution. Rather, it presumptively forecloses criminal culpability ‘once a prima facie claim of self-defense immunity has been raised by the defendant’ unless the State establishes, ‘by clear and convincing evidence,’ that the defendant did not act in self-defense to overcome this immunity. The circuit court did not err by denying Smith’s motion because the statute is substantive and not retroactive by its own terms.”

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