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South Dakota Parole Board Improperly Enhanced Prisoner’s Parole Date

The South Dakota Supreme Court has held that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles (Board) exceeded its authority when it calculated a prisoner’s initial parole release date by treating Class 4 felonies as Class 2 felonies.

Lloyd Rowley was convicted of two Class 4 felonies on October 12, 2007. His sentence was enhanced two levels – to the equivalent of Class 2 felonies – because he was a habitual offender, and he received 21 years in prison for both convictions.

Pursuant to SDCL 24-15A-32, defendants convicted of Class 4 felonies must serve 40 percent of their sentences before parole eligibility while those convicted of Class 2 felonies have to serve 50 percent of their sentences.

Since his sentence had been enhanced, the Department of Corrections (DOC) calculated Rowley’s initial parole date using the Class 2 percentage rather than the Class 4 percentage. The Board subsequently affirmed the DOC’s initial parole date calculation; Rowley filed an appeal in circuit court, which upheld the Board’s decision.

The South Dakota Supreme Court reversed, finding that the plain language of the habitual offender statute, SDCL 22-7-8.1, “indicates that the sentence is enhanced, not the principal felony.”

The Court concluded: “By its plain language, SDCL 22-7-8.1 does not substantively change the principal felony nor does the reference to SDCL 24-15A-32 in the last sentence of SDCL 22-7-8.1 demonstrate legislative intent to enhance the felony class when determining an inmate’s parole eligibility date pursuant to SDCL 24-15A-32.” Therefore, “the Board acted without authority in determining that Rowley was a Class 2 felon when calculating his initial parole date.”

Justice Glen Severson issued a dissenting opinion. See: Rowley v. South Dakota Board of Pardons & Paroles, 2013 SD 6, 826 N.W.2d 360 (S.D. 2013).

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