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South Dakota Supreme Court unseals investigation of billionaire T. Denny Sanford

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, South Dakota philanthropist T. Denny Sanford speaks...
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, South Dakota philanthropist T. Denny Sanford speaks with reporters in Sioux Falls, S.D. The South Dakota Supreme Court Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 weighed whether to unseal a search warrant and affidavits in an investigation into billionaire banker-turned-philanthropist T. Denny Sanford for possible possession of child pornography. The court documents are sealed and refer only to “an implicated individual," and attorneys did not name Sanford as they made their arguments. However, one person briefed on the case by law enforcement told The Associated Press that the hearing involved Sanford and a legal effort by media organizations to unseal court records in the investigation. The person demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.(Carson Walker | AP Photo/Carson Walker, File)
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 8:52 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The South Dakota Supreme Court has weighed in on a case involving philanthropist T. Denny Sanford.

Thursday, the court moved to unseal records, which include a search warrant and affidavits, stemming from a possible child pornography investigation. A circuit court sealed the search warrant at the request of authorities.

According to court documents, Sanford was only referred to as “an implicated individual.”

Attorneys for the national media outlet ProPublica, and Sioux Falls Argus Leader argued that the records should be made publicly available. However, Sanford’s attorney Marty Jackley, argued that the records should not be released, given that Sanford was incorrectly listed as a defendant.

Neil Fulton, the Dean of the Knudson School of Law at the University of South Dakota, says this ruling could set a precedent for public access to information regarding criminal investigations.

“What this ruling really does is say is when there is a search warrant that’s out there, you cannot seal up the existence of the warrant itself, or the contents of the warrant,” said Fulton.

Last year, South Dakota investigators received information that an electronic device registered in Sanford’s name had sent, received, or downloaded child pornography. South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg determined that there was enough evidence to charge Sanford in the case, but opted to defer to federal prosecutors because the case spanned across many states.

The case will remain sealed until the petition for the rehearing time expires and the case is remitted back to the trial court. That time is 20 days.

“One of two things will happen either the issue will continue because one of the parties has asked for re-hearings by the supreme court or the case will, in my opinion, be resolved in that the order precluding public access to these warrant materials be granted,” said Fulton.

Fulton says the results of this hearing help to ensure a system of checks and balances for the government.

Public access and public engagement with that information provides a check on government power, we’re not a place the government can just conduct an investigation of private citizens without public awareness and insight into it,” said Fulton.

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