Report: State court system fields fewer criminal cases

Some violent crimes increase, but drug crimes decrease

By: - October 18, 2023 4:57 pm
The Brown County Courthouse is located in Aberdeen and is connected to other county offices, such as the Auditor's Office and the Brown County Jail. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

The Brown County Courthouse is located in Aberdeen and is connected to other county offices, such as the Auditor’s Office and the Brown County Jail. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

The number of criminal case filings dropped in South Dakota in fiscal year 2023, continuing a five-year slide in criminal caseloads.

The drop in caseloads appears in the state Unified Judicial System’s annual report, released this week. The drop is a contrast from the arrest figures in the state Division of Criminal Investigation’s annual “Crime in South Dakota” report from August, but both data sources point to multi-year reductions in drug crimes.

The DCI reported year-over-year increases in arrests for assault, vehicle theft, robbery, weapons violations and kidnapping in 2022. Rape and narcotics violations fell, however, and the increases in 2022 did not push most statewide arrest figures over the five-year highs recorded in 2020.

The just-released state court information is sorted by state fiscal year, which ends on July 1 each year. Overall criminal filings dropped across the board in the court data. The long-term decrease in drug arrests is reflected in the criminal filing figures, as drug and DUI cases make up a larger overall share of the state’s criminal caseload.

Prosecutors filed:

  • 223 fewer felonies in FY 2023, compared to 2019.
  • 2,582 fewer class 1 misdemeanors (e.g. DUI, simple assault). 
  • 9,874 fewer class 2 misdemeanors (e.g. careless driving).
  • 1,115 fewer juvenile delinquencies.

Only once since 2019 have adult felonies and cases against juveniles fallen to a lower level than they did at the end of July. That was in 2021, when felonies dropped to 11,596 and juvenile cases dropped to 2,537.

The UJS report also notes that the combined number of court trials – trials held before a judge – and jury trials has hit its lowest point in five years. Jury trials in 2023 fell to 177, which is 112 fewer than five years ago. Court trials, meanwhile, dropped by 830, from 3,307 trials in 2019 to 2,477.

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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