Janklow Sentenced to 100 Days Behind Bars

Posted January 22, 2004 at 5:03pm

A South Dakota judge today sentenced former Rep. Bill Janklow (R) to 100 days in jail for his role in an August 2003 car crash that killed a 55-year-old motorcyclist.

After 30 days behind bars, Janklow will be eligible to leave jail for up to 10 hours during the day to perform community service. After he completes his jail term, he will be on probation for three years, during which he will not be allowed to drive.

Judge Rodney Steele issued the sentence following a hearing in which nine people testified on Janklow’s behalf. Steele said the community service requirement could be met if Janklow gives talks, teachings or lectures on government and civics.

In an address to the court, Janklow repeatedly apologized for the accident and refuted assertions that he was trying to make excuses for the accident during his criminal trial.

Janklow, a legendary political powerhouse who served as the state’s governor and attorney general before being elected to the House in 2002, was convicted of second degree manslaughter, reckless driving, speeding and running a stop sign following a week-long trial. The 64-year-old formally resigned his House seat Tuesday.

Janklow’s resignation short-circuited an independent review of the case by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Chamber rules require an inquiry anytime a lawmaker is convicted of a felony offense that carries a sentence of more than two years. But once Janklow left office, the committee lost jurisdiction.

“My resignation from the United States Congress brings an end to my political life,” Janklow said in a letter mailed to constituents this week.

“There are regrets, but they are either too few or too painful to mention. There are great memories, too, far too many to name, all made indelible by the people — all of you — with whom and for whom I have worked over the years, as your attorney general, your governor, and your congressman.”

South Dakota’s lone House seat will remain vacant until a special election is held in June.

Under South Dakota law, the judge had wide discretion in fashioning the sentence. Unlike many federal statutes mandating minimum sentences, state law leaves the judge free to decide the penalty. The range available to Steele was anything from no prison time up to more than 11 years.

He also could have imposed up to $11,400 in fines.

The Associated Press reviewed South Dakota court records and determined that most people convicted of second-degree manslaughter received at least some time behind bars. Forty people have been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter since 1989, according to AP’s review of computerized court-system data. A review shows that 32 of those people were sent to prison or jail.

The average jail term was six months, and the average prison term was nearly seven years. About half of the convictions involved traffic accidents, the AP reported.

The family of deceased motorcyclist Randy Scott has filed a wrongful death suit against Janklow seeking at least $50,000 in damages. There is no indication yet whether Janklow will seek to have the federal government take responsibility for the claim by arguing that he was on official business at the time of the accident.

Janklow, who has a well-documented record of speeding violations, was driving to his home on Aug. 16 after attending a ceremony honoring Korean War veterans. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) also attended the event. Janklow’s chief of staff, Chris Braendlin, was a passenger in the car.

The car is owned by Marc Tobias, a lawyer and friend of Janklow’s who has told reporters he regularly loaned Jankow the Cadillac for trips around the state.

In his farewell letter to constituents, Janklow said the greatest privilege in a democracy is to be chosen to serve others.

“That privilege often comes at a price. There are times when you can be loved, or you can be a leader,” Janklow wrote. “I am leaving now, knowing that all too much work is unfinished and all too many challenges are unmet, but I am leaving with a gift you have given to me — the understanding that every person can make a difference.”