When you are charged with a crime, you become a defendant in a criminal case. Before you can be convicted of a crime, the State of South Dakota bears the burden to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As a defendant, it is important to remember that you have certain constitutional and statutory rights. If you decide to plead guilty or no contest, you will waive or give up many of these rights.
These rights are:
- Right to be Informed of Pending Charges. You have the right to know the charges against you and maximum possible penalty for each alleged crime, including potential fines and jail/prison time. You also have the right to be informed of any potential "collateral consequences" if convicted.
- Right to Counsel. At all stages of your criminal proceeding, you have the right to be represented by an attorney with whom you are able to consult.
- Right to a Speedy Public Trial and Unanimous Verdict. You have the right to a speedy trial in open court by an impartial jury of twelve members from the community in which you are charged. At your trial, all twelve members must decide your guilt unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt. You also have the right to waive your right to a jury trial and request a trial to the court.
- The Presumption of Innocence. When charges are filed, you are automatically presumed innocent. You never have to prove that you are innocent. Rather, the burden of proof is on the State of South Dakota to prove, by competent evidence, that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Your presumption of innocence stays with you throughout your case, including through your trial.
- Right to Confrontation. You have the right to be present in person at your trial in open court to confront the witnesses against you and to cross-examine those witnesses.
- Right to Subpoena Witnesses. If there is a witness that you want called in your case you have the right to subpoena the witness to appear and testify on your behalf.
- Right Against Self Incrimination. You have a continuing right against self-incrimination. This means that you cannot be called to testify. Additionally, the prosecution cannot comment on your failure to testify nor can any inferences of guilt be drawn if you choose not to testify.