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Reck v. South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles

Supreme Court of South Dakota

July 17, 2019

JOSHUA RECK, Appellant,
v.
SOUTH DAKOTA BOARD OF PARDONS AND PAROLES, Appellee. Felony Class First Second Third

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MAY 28, 2019

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, THE HONORABLE JAMES A. POWER Judge THE HONORABLE LAWRENCE E. LONG Judge

          BEAU J. BLOUIN of Minnehaha County Public Defender's Office, JASON RAVNSBORG Attorney General, Attorneys for appellant.

          JASON RAVNSBORG Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota CATHERINE SCHLIMGEN Special Assistant Attorney General Department of Corrections Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellee.

          JENSEN, JUSTICE

         [¶1.] Joshua Reck was sentenced to penitentiary terms for aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon arising from unrelated incidents. The South Dakota Department of Corrections (Department) calculated Reck's parole eligibility for both sentences under the parole grid in SDCL 24-15A-32. A South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) appeal panel affirmed the Department's parole eligibility calculations. Reck appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the BPP's decision. Reck appeals to this Court, arguing the Department misapplied the parole grid by using one or more of his prior non-violent felony convictions to increase his time until parole. We affirm the circuit court's ruling.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] On December 5, 2016, Reck was sentenced in Hutchinson County to twelve years in the state penitentiary with four years suspended following his nolo contendere plea to aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, a class 2 felony. The Department calculated Reck's parole eligibility date by applying the grid in SDCL 24-15A-32.[1] At the time, Reck had been convicted of three prior felonies in South Dakota, all considered non-violent for parole purposes under SDCL 24-15A-32. Although aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer is categorized as a violent offense for parole under SDCL 24-15A-32, the Department considered Reck's prior non-violent felonies when it calculated his parole eligibility. Using his prior non-violent convictions, the Department treated Reck's sentence for aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer as his third felony conviction, requiring him to serve 75% of his sentence.

         [¶3.] On June 26, 2017, Reck was sentenced in Minnehaha County to fifteen years in the state penitentiary, with five years suspended after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, a class 3 felony. This sentence was ordered to run concurrent with his prior sentence for aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. After sentencing, the Department applied the parole grid in SDCL 24-15A-32 and included at least one of Reck's prior non-violent felonies to determine the aggravated assault was at least his third felony conviction. Under the grid, the Department calculated Reck would not be parole eligible until he served 70% of his sentence.

         [¶4.] Reck challenged the Department's parole eligibility calculations for both of his aggravated assault convictions. Reck did not dispute the classification of the convictions, or their treatment as violent offenses, but took exception to the Department's use of his prior non-violent felonies to increase the parole eligibility dates under the grid. He asserted that his prior non-violent felony convictions could not be used to calculate his parole eligibility on his sentences for violent offenses under the grid in SDCL 24-15A-32. To this end, Reck claimed the parole grid only required him to serve 50% of his sentence for aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, because it was his first violent felony conviction. Similarly, he argued the parole grid only required him to serve 60% of his sentence for aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, since it was his second violent felony conviction. The prison warden denied Reck's challenge to the parole calculations, and Reck appealed to the BPP.

         [¶5.] At a hearing before a panel of the BPP, Reck appeared pro se and maintained that the Department incorrectly applied the parole grid in SDCL 24-15A-32. The Department's Records Administrator, Melinda Johnson, testified to the Department's procedure when calculating the parole eligibility date. During Johnson's cross-examination, Reck asked what authority permitted the Department to combine violent and non-violent felonies under the grid in SDCL 24-15A-32. Johnson responded, "24-15A-16 . . . [p]art of [that statute] states that any felony conviction in this state, any other state[, ] or the United States shall be considered to determine the initial parole date under [SDCL 24-15A-32]." The BPP panel affirmed the Department's calculations, stating in its findings of fact and conclusions of law, "[f]or purposes of determining the percentage of a sentence an offender must serve before reaching his initial parole date, SDCL 24-15A-32 and 24-15A-16 must be read together . . . ."

         [¶6.] Reck appealed the BPP decision to the circuit court. Following a hearing, the circuit court denied Reck's claim of error in the Department's parole calculations, stating: "Reck's argument ignores the plain language of SDCL 24-15A-16 which requires: ". . . Any felony conviction in this state, . . . shall be considered to determine an initial parole date under Secs. 24-15-4 and 24-15A-32."

         [¶7.] Reck appealed the circuit court's order and was appointed counsel for his appeal to this Court. He raises one issue:

Whether the circuit court erred in affirming the Department's parole determinations for Reck's aggravated assault sentences under ...

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