The South Dakota court system is comprised of Small Claims, Drug Court, Circuit Court and a Supreme Court.
The South Dakota Small Claims Court hears cases of small claims up to $12,000. This amount does change occasionally, according to the South Dakota Legislature's discretion. This court is meant to make such cases easier to pursue by allowing individuals to sue for small losses without an attorney.
The state's Drug Court was established in 2007 to help criminal defendants dealing with drug and alcohol dependency. The first DUI court was established in 2009 in Hughes and Stanley County. As of 2015, there were a total of 12 specialty courts – 7 Drug Courts and 5 DUI courts. These courts don't hear cases, but are used post-plea to help the defendant battling dependency. Treatment programs, reinforcement and changing addictive behavior are at the helm of their mission.
The main goal of these specialty courts is to reduce recidivism rates and increase public safety. This is accomplished through giving the offenders the ability to work in the community while receiving continuing care in the system; all while reducing incarceration as a means of reducing rates of drug and alcohol dependency.
The South Dakota Circuit Court is divided into seven different circuits. There are a total of 38 judges within the Circuit Courts, and they are elected or appointed. These are the trial courts of original jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases. They also have exclusive jurisdiction over felony cases, civil claims over $10,000 and hear appeals from magistrate courts.
The South Dakota Supreme Court has a total of five justices who are appointed to the bench. This is the court of last resort for the state. Should any party want to appeal a case decided by this court, they must petition the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration. Most cases reviewed by the Supreme Court originated in the Circuit Courts. The Supreme Court also provides opinions to the executive and legislative branches of government in the state about powers and constitutionality of laws.
South Dakota has a long history of notable death penalty cases. The state currently allows the death penalty to be imposed. Until 1947, all executions were carried out by hanging. Since 1976, the state has used lethal injection.
Jack McCall was the first person executed by South Dakota in 1987. He was convicted of the murder of Wild Bill Hickok.
Thomas Egan was executed for the murder of his wife in 1882, though the execution took a total of three attempts. First, the rope broke, and then the rope did not break his neck. Several years later, his stepdaughter admitted it was she who actually committed the crime.
Elijah Page and Briley Piper pleaded guilty to the murder of a man in 2001 and sentenced to death. A third defendant, Darrell Hoadley, pleaded innocent but was convicted by a jury. Hoadley received a life imprisonment sentence. Page was executed in 2007. Piper appealed his death sentence which was vacated, leaving him waiting for word from a jury for re-sentencing.