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State of South Dakota v. Jason Thomas Larsen-Smith

December 21, 2011

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA,
PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
JASON THOMAS LARSEN-SMITH,
DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE JOSEPH NEILES Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbertson, Chief Justice

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON NOVEMBER 14, 2011

[¶1.] Jason Thomas Larsen-Smith appeals his sentence for manslaughter in the first degree. Larsen-Smith was sentenced to life without parole. Larsen-Smith argues the sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Because the sentence is within the statutory maximum and does not appear to be grossly disproportionate, the sentence is affirmed.

Facts

[¶2.] In the early morning hours of December 18, 2009, Steven Schade of the South Dakota Highway patrol observed Larsen-Smith's vehicle cross over the center line on 41st Street in Sioux Falls. When Schade activated his lights Larsen-Smith attempted to outrun him. Schade pursued. The pursuit continued through Sioux Falls, reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour. At the intersection of 12th Street and Ellis Road, Larsen-Smith ran a red light and collided with a Ford Ranger that was proceeding through the intersection in the other direction. The driver of the Ford Ranger died at the scene. Larsen-Smith was taken to the hospital, where a blood draw, taken at least one hour after the accident, established his blood alcohol level to be .12 percent.

[¶3.] Larsen-Smith was charged by indictment with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, aggravated eluding, driving while revoked, driving under the influence, and possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. A part two information alleged the DUI was a fifth offense. Larsen-Smith later entered a guilty plea to first degree manslaughter (SDCL 22-16-15(1)) and DUI; Larsen-Smith also admitted the part two information. The circuit court ordered a presentence investigation (PSI).

[¶4.] At sentencing, the wife and stepdaughter of the decedent read prepared statements on how the death had devastated their lives. The sentencing court addressed Larsen-Smith, and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole on the manslaughter conviction and a consecutive ten-year sentence on the DUI conviction. Larsen-Smith appeals the sentence.

Analysis

[¶5.] Larsen-Smith challenges the constitutionality of his sentence. He argues that life without parole is disproportionate to his crime, and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

It is well-settled that we employ very limited principles in our constitutional review of sentences. These principles include giving substantial deference to the legislature's broad authority to determine the types and limits of punishment; and the notion that the Eighth Amendment does not mandate adoption of any one penological theory. Consequently, a sentence within the statutory maximum will rarely be disturbed. This Court applies the gross disproportionality test when assessing the constitutionality of a particular sentence.

State v. Iannarelli, 2008 S.D. 121, ¶ 12, 759 N.W.2d 122, 125 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

[¶6.] "[T]o assess a challenge to proportionality we first determine whether the sentence appears grossly disproportionate. To accomplish this, we consider the conduct involved, and any relevant past conduct, with utmost deference to the Legislature and the sentencing court. If these circumstances fail to suggest gross disproportionality, our review ends." State v. Bonner, 1998 S.D. 30, ¶ 17, 577 N.W.2d 575, 580. "It is a rare case in which a threshold comparison of the crime committed and the sentence imposed leads to an inference of gross disproportionality." Iannarelli, 2008 S.D. 121, ¶ 12, 759 N.W.2d at 125 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

[¶7.] First-degree manslaughter in violation of SDCL 22-16-15(1) is a Class C felony. The maximum penalty for a Class C felony is life imprisonment. SDCL 22-6-1(3). Larsen-Smith's sentence is within the statutory maximum.

[ΒΆ8.] To arrive at an appropriate sentence: "the sentencing court should 'acquire a thorough acquaintance with the character and history of the man before it.' This study should examine a defendant's 'general moral character, mentality, habits, social environment, tendencies, age, aversion or inclination to commit crime, life, family, occupation, and ...


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