Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg won’t have to do any community service after he hit and killed a man with his car last year, but he faces a new charge for allegedly driving 22 miles over the speed limit.
“I’m disappointed in the Attorney General for just not accepting that and doing it (community service) on his own,” said Michael Moore, one of the prosecutors in the case. “In his position, with his influence and authority, his resources, he should take that upon himself to do something like that.”
A Hughes County deputy pulled Ravnsborg over in Pierre on August 22, four days before he was set to face trial for driving misdemeanors that allegedly happened before he hit pedestrian Joe Boever.
Ravnsborg was driving 57 mph in a 35-mph-zone near North Garfield and Capitol Avenue at 8:54 p.m., according to his ticket. He was driving a 2020 Chevrolet SUV.
This is Ravnsborg’s seventh speeding ticket in South Dakota since 2014. He has two more from Iowa.
Ravnsborg was not accused of speeding when he hit Boever near Highmore on Sept. 12, 2020. Ravnsborg said he thought he hit a deer and didn’t find the body until the next morning when he returned to the scene in a car he borrowed from the Hyde County Sheriff.
Prosecutors charged Ravnsborg with careless driving, driving outside his lane and driving while on his phone – all Class 2 misdemeanors punished by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
They said South Dakota doesn’t have a negligent homicide charge, and there wasn’t evidence that his behavior met the legal definition of "reckless" that’s required to charge someone with second-degree manslaughter.
Ravnsborg was expected to go to trial on Aug. 26 but instead agreed to plead no contest for the cell phone and lane charges.
Tim Rensch, Ravnsborg’s defense lawyer, cited attorney-client privilege in declining to share why Ravnsborg took the plea deal rather than go to trial. But he says it wasn’t related to the recent speeding citation.
“I don’t think that motivated his plea deal at all,” he said.
Rensch entered the pleas on Aug. 25 since Ravnsborg did not attend his hearing, much to the disappointment of Boever’s family.
Retired Judge John Brown fined Ravnsborg $1,000 and said he wanted to order Ravnsborg to do a public service event on distracted driving near the anniversary of the crash for the next five years.
Rensch objected, saying that wasn’t allowed under South Dakota law. He argued that defendants can’t be sentenced to community service or other conditions that last longer than the maximum jail time when no jail time, suspended jail time or probation is given
Rensch said the judge emailed a response on Tuesday.
“I agree that since there was no suspended jail time the court has no authority to impose the extended conditions of public presentations on distracted driving. Please provide a judgment without those conditions,” Rensch said Brown wrote.
Moore said he ultimately came to agree with the judge on the legal issue. He acknowledged that the Brown could have ordered community service if he had requested a shorter term but said the judge wouldn’t have had a way to enforce it.
Moore also said he wasn’t aware of the recent speeding incident, but it wouldn’t have impacted sentencing because Brown previously ruled out jail time.
The judge isn’t allowed to adjust the sentence to allow for community service.
“Once you announce a sentence you can’t alter the terms to make it worse. The moment he strikes something from the judgement, he can’t add something in its place,” Rensch said.
Ravnsborg has a Sept. 20 court date for his speeding charge, and he owes $177.50 in fines and fees. Speeding is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
There are no attorneys or judge assigned to the case yet.