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Senate bill 146 could give people sentenced to life an option for parole

Senate Bill 146 is “an act to revise certain provisions regarding eligibility for parole for certain persons sentenced to life imprisonment.” If passed, the bill would give people 25 and under, who committed a crime and were sentenced to life, the option for parole.
Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 5:49 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - The South Dakota Legislature is discussing a bill that would end life without parole sentences for young people.

Senate Bill 146 is “an act to revise certain provisions regarding eligibility for parole for certain persons sentenced to life imprisonment.” If passed, the bill would give people 25 and under, who committed a crime and were sentenced to life, the option for parole.

“The bottom line is, I am not convinced at this point that it’s something that would be terribly meaningful,” said Mark Vargo, the Pennington County State’s Attorney. “I also am not sure, and I assume that they mean it for any life sentence so that could include a life sentence that was imposed where the person was otherwise facing the death penalty.”

“If they live 25, 30 years in the penitentiary and are abiding by all of the rules and they grow up and they learn a profession or a trade, they form bonds and friendships, understand what’s important to life, we may end up with very good, productive members of society back into our community,” said Timothy Rensch, president of Rensch Law.

Rensch has practiced criminal and civil law in South Dakota for 28 years and 21 years ago was involved in the murder case of Chester Allen Poage of Spearfish.

“He went to a jury trial; the jury chose to give him life,” said Rensch. “Because he was under the age of 25, if this bill is passed, he would be eligible for parole at the age of 50.”

Senate Bill 146 could allow one of Poage’s murderers access to parole, which up until this point, in South Dakota a life sentence meant no chance of parole.

“I’m sure it would be insulting and hard for any family member of a person who was killed to see that that would happen,” said Rensch. “But if you stand back from a larger picture, if a person is not a danger to society, and they’ve proven through their long-standing actions that they have something to offer, then maybe that young man can say something to other people, whether it be parents or children to keep other people out of those types of circumstances so that they won’t commit such a crime.”

The bill was heard by the Senate on January 28th and referred to the Senate Judiciary. On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee passed the bill with six yays and zero nays.

The bill will now move back to the full Senate.

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