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S.D. Pol Faces Jail Time, Lawsuit

South Dakota's former governor and U.S. representative could find out Thursday if he will spend time behind bars.

It started last summer when a man who witnessed a Cadillac collide with a motorcycle said he talked to then-Rep. Bill Janklow at the scene.

The next morning, the Highway Patrol confirmed that the former governor and state attorney general was driving the car and had been injured. The rider of the Harley-Davidson, 55-year-old Randy Scott, was killed instantly.

Now, five months after the Aug. 16 crash, the 64-year-old Janklow is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in his boyhood hometown of Flandreau. He resigned from Congress Tuesday.

Janklow was convicted Dec. 8 of second-degree manslaughter, speeding and running a stop sign, and reckless driving.

South Dakota does not require minimum sentences, so the judge's discretion ranges from no time behind bars and no fines up to a total of 11 years in prison — 10 for the manslaughter count, plus 14 months in jail for the lesser counts — and $11,400 in fines. Judge Rodney Steele also could require restitution or community service or set other special conditions.

Whatever the sentence, the judge likely will rely heavily on a pre-sentence report that includes facts on every aspect of Janklow's life, his driving record and comments from the Scott family.

In Janklow's case, the document likely will include a report prepared for his trial but not entered into evidence that shows when he was stopped for speeding but not ticketed. That report was sealed.

An Associated Press review of South Dakota court records shows most people convicted of second-degree manslaughter get at least some time behind bars. Forty people have been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter since 1989, according to 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 victim's family has filed a civil lawsuit against Janklow, seeking unspecified damages, reports Eric Eskola of CBS radio station WCCO.

The official wording is "in excess of $50,000," but that is only to conform to state law. "We can seek more damages than that in the trial, and I guarantee you we will," family attorney Ronald Meshbesher told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. "Obviously, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a human life. But we will hope for in excess of six figures."

One issue in the civil case will be whether Janklow was working or was on his own time when the accident occurred. He had spoken at two public events in the preceding 24 hours, and was on his way home.

"It's pretty clear he was on duty," says University of South Dakota law professor Chris Hutton.

If so, that would limit his liability and put the burden of defending him on the federal government.

Meshbesher disagrees.

"I don't think simply because the congressman is giving a speech, that means it's for the taxpayers," he said. "Even so, in typical workers' compensation cases, whether or not the employer is responsible for the employee action, the employee is not covered just going to and from work. He was done with his speech and headed toward home."

Janklow was state attorney general and, later, governor on and off beginning in the 1970s, before being elected in 2002 to South Dakota's lone House seat. The seat will remain open until a June 1 election. South Dakota only has one representative in the House.

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