Overview - UJS
Court, Circuit courts of general jurisdiction, and Lower courts of limited original jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court is the state's highest court. It consists of a chief justice and four
associate justices who are appointed to the office by the Governor from five appointment
districts. The map below shows the Supreme Court appointment districts.
Justices are retained in office or rejected from office on a nonpolitical ballot in the
general election three years after appointment and every eight years thereafter. From
among themselves the justices select a chief justice who serves as the administrative head
of the Unified Judicial System.
As the state's highest court and court of last resort, the Supreme Court's primary
function is that of an appeals court. Parties seeking to change an adverse circuit court
decision appeal to the Supreme Court. The Court then examines the circuit court
proceedings and determines whether the circuit court's decision was correct. On occasion,
the Supreme Court also has the authority to issue original or remedial writs and advise
the Governor on issues concerning the Governor's executive powers.
In addition to its judicial functions, the Supreme Court administers the statewide
unified court system. Administratively, the Court prepares and submits an annual budget
for the entire system. It generally supervises the work of the circuit courts to secure
the prompt disposition of cases. It appoints court personnel. The Supreme Court also makes
rules covering practice and procedure, administration of the courts, terms of courts,
admissions to the bar, and discipline of the members of the bar.
The counties forming the state of South Dakota are divided into seven judicial circuits.
There are fourty-one circuit judges serving in the seven circuits.
Judges are elected in a non-political election for eight-year terms by
voters in the circuit each represents or appointed by the Governor.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints one judge in each circuit
to act as the presiding circuit judge. Presiding judges supervise and administer operations within their circuits.
The circuit courts are the general trial courts of the Unified Judicial System.
These courts have original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases.
They are the only court where a criminal felony case can be tried and determined
as well as a civil case involving more than ten thousand dollars in damages.
Circuit courts also have jurisdiction over appeals from magistrate court decisions.
The third tier of courts in South Dakota's unified system consists of
magistrate courts presided over by lay magistrates or magistrate judges.
Magistrate judges must be licensed attorneys, while lay magistrates must be high school graduates.
Generally, magistrate courts assist the circuit courts in processing
minor criminal cases and less serious civil actions. Whether presided over
by a lay magistrate or a magistrate judge, magistrate courts, as well as the
circuit courts, perform marriages, receive depositions, issue warrants,
conduct certain preliminary hearings, set bail, appoint counsel, accept
pleas for class 2 misdemeanors, and hear non-contested civil and small
claims actions where the amount of money or damage does not exceed twelve thousand dollars.
Magistrate courts presided over by magistrate judges share additional
authority with the circuit courts. These courts may conduct preliminary
hearings in all criminal cases, act as committing magistrate for all
purposes, and conduct misdemeanor trials. Magistrate judges may also
decide temporary protection orders, try civil cases where claims do
not exceed twelve thousand dollars, and try small claims cases not exceeding twelve thousand dollars.