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State v. Bolton

Supreme Court of South Dakota

December 27, 2017

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
CLINT BOLTON, Defendant and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 28, 2017

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE MATTHEW M. BROWN Judge

          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General GRANT FLYNN Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          TIMOTHY J. RENSCH of Rensch Law Office Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

          ZINTER, JUSTICE.

         [¶1.] This appeal raises the question whether sentencing courts have the power to suspend execution of sentence on the condition of good behavior for periods longer than the authorized maximum term of imprisonment. We conclude that sentencing courts have such power because it has been delegated to them by the Constitution and the Legislature has not restricted it.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] Clint Bolton was charged with alternative counts of simple assault, a class 1 misdemeanor. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the State filed an amended complaint charging disorderly conduct, a class 2 misdemeanor. Class 2 misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of thirty days in jail or a $500 fine or both. SDCL 22-6-2. The State also agreed to recommend a thirty-day jail sentence with all thirty days suspended. Bolton agreed to the plea agreement, and counsel entered a no contest plea to disorderly conduct on Bolton's behalf.[1]

         [¶3.] The magistrate court accepted the plea and imposed a thirty-day jail sentence. The court then suspended execution of that sentence on the condition that Bolton obey all laws and remain on good behavior for six months. Bolton's attorney immediately objected to the sentence. He argued the court could not condition a suspended execution of sentence for a period longer than thirty days, the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for class 2 misdemeanors. The court invited counsel to brief the issue.

         [¶4.] In lieu of briefing, Bolton filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence. The magistrate court denied the motion. Relying on State v. Macy, the court concluded it was permitted to conditionally suspend execution of sentence for periods that exceed the maximum term of imprisonment for the underlying offense. See State v. Macy, 403 N.W.2d 743, 745 (S.D. 1987) (stating sentencing courts have complete discretion in setting the length of probation when the court suspends imposition of sentence). Following the circuit court's affirmance, we granted Bolton's petition for intermediate appeal.

         Decision

         [¶5.] As a preliminary matter, the State argues Bolton's appeal is moot because his sentence was complete on January 17, 2017. However, this Court may "determine a moot question of public importance if we feel that the value of its determination as a precedent is sufficient to overcome the rule against considering moot questions." Larson v. Krebs, 2017 S.D. 39, ¶ 16, 898 N.W.2d 10, 16-17. The public interest exception requires "general public importance, probable future recurrence, and probable future mootness." Id.

         [¶6.] The issue raised in Bolton's appeal meets these requirements. The magistrate court indicated that it conditionally suspended sentences in class 2 misdemeanors for six months "just about every day." The issue will also continue to evade review because the relatively short sentences imposed in this kind of case expire before an appeal can be completed. It is finally an issue of general public importance. If such sentences are illegal, they are being improperly imposed on not only the thousands of people sentenced for very low-level offenses, but potentially on those felons that require long and extensive court supervision on suspended sentences. We exercise our discretion to address the issue.

         [¶7.] The specific issue is whether a sentencing court may conditionally suspend execution of sentence for a period that exceeds the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the offense. Bolton argues such sentences are illegal. He contends there is no case or statute that authorizes such suspensions. Although he relies on a number of our precedents that have touched on the legality of various suspended sentences, none of them address the ultimate question here: whether ...


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