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Are South Dakota Court Records Public?

The South Dakota Sunshine Law and the State of Dakota Unified Judicial System Court Records Rule are the two-State laws that govern public access to court records in South Dakota. The South Dakota Sunshine Law was introduced in 1935 and seeks to promote transparency and accountability by the State Government. According to the law, all citizens of South Dakota and every other interested entity reserve the legal right to access public records in the State. Public records include documents and information from governmental bodies and agencies as provided by the law. Since Courts in the State of South Dakota are government agencies, the general public is authorized by law to inspect and/or make copies of court records.

The Unified Judicial System Court Records Rule is found in Chapter 15 of the State of Dakota Codified Laws. The Court Records Rule regulates the procedures and requirements for accessing and obtaining court records in the State. It provides guidance to both the entities seeking access to court records and the court officials responding to the records requests.

According to the Court Records Rule, members of the public have the same access to court records unless provided otherwise by the rule. The public as defined in this context by the law includes any person, business, association, organization, and nonprofit entities. It also includes media organizations, and governmental agencies, provided that their access to court records is not bound by other existing policies or statutes.

There are some entities that are not enlisted as part of the public according to the Court Records Rule. They include courts and court clerks, and private or governmental entities or persons who provide assistance to courts in the provision of court services. Parties to a case and their legal representatives are also not part of the public with regard to their access to their own court records.

However, it is important to note that some court records in South Dakota are not open to the public. These records are regarded as confidential by the law. As such, interested persons must follow the legally stipulated procedures for requesting access to these documents. Some of the confidential court records outlined by the Court Rule include:

  • Information restricted from public access pursuant to Federal law, State law, or a court rule
  • Records that may affect the general public if disclosed
  • Abortion records
  • Adoption files and records
  • Abuse and Neglect court records
  • Personal Information of a party who had submitted a request prohibiting access to records.

In South Dakota, a party to a case may submit a request to prohibit access to such court records. The court must issue a notice to all parties and it shall hear any objection from other interested parties on the request. The Supreme Court may decide to provide an individual with access to confidential records when the purpose of the request overrides the purpose of prohibiting access.

How Do I Find Court Records in South Dakota?

The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in South Dakota is to find out who maintains the records. South Dakota court records' custodians are the Court Clerks. There are several ways to find court records in South Dakota. These include in-person requests, mail, fax, and remote search. In South Dakota, the type of records being requested determines the method for making the requests. For instance, a civil or criminal court record search can only be conducted through a Clerk of the Court. To find these records, the individual may visit the court where the case was heard, or send a mail to the Court Clerk or Court Administrator. The request will provide details of the requestor, the record being requested, and the purpose for the request.

To access court records in person, visit the State Supreme Court building at:

South Dakota Supreme Court
500 East Capitol Avenue
SD 57501-5070

Once a request is submitted, the court will respond within a stipulated time. The response usually contains information about the availability of the record requested. The Clerk of the Court shall provide the requestor with the right information capturing the request procedures. The Clerk shall also charge a record search fee of $20 for each search conducted. If the requesting party certifies that the record is being requested in line with a pending State or Federal cause of action, the Clerk shall charge a $5 fee. The Clerk also charges a fee for every name search conducted. The name may include the name of a business, a corporation, or an individual.

Interested persons may submit a request for compiled information from court records. These include information that is not available in an existing court report. The Supreme Court’s Clerk may compile and disclose the information if the requestor meets the court's conditions. The Court Administrator takes this decision. To find confidential financial records, interested persons may file a motion backed up with an affidavit showing good cause for access to documents. The court shall grant access to such records if it decides that the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the parties' privacy interest.

For remote search, visit the South Dakota Unified System website. To process records on the site, requestors are required to download, complete, and upload a request form. Also, requestors are to provide the name of the party involved in the record and the date the record was documented. Criminal cases are available on the system from 1989 till date, and civil cases are available from 2003 till date. The database also houses court judgments from April 9, 2004. Individuals may search by county.

Requestors may also obtain records of civil money judgments from the South Dakota Judicial System query website. Every search attracts a fee of $20 whether or not the information is available on the database. Search by name is usually $4 per name with an additional $1 handling fee to access the document. To use this service, the individual must register on the website. After that, the individual may use the pay-as-you-go option, where they are required to pay with their credit or debit card. Interested persons may also visit the State Court Administrator's Office to set up a subscription account for obtaining information on the website.

Individuals interested in criminal and protection records may search on the Public Access Record Search System (PARS). The system also allows individuals to access civil records.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through traditional government sources and third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method. 
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, parishes, and states. 

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites compared to government sources.

How Do South Dakota Courts Work?

South Dakota Courts are institutions charged with the duty of administering justice in the state. To achieve this, the court hears disputes between two or more parties. South Dakota operates two levels of courts, which include:

  • Supreme Court
  • Circuit Court (with Magistrate Court)

The South Dakota Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of issues, and it may review appeals from the Circuit Court. The court shall decide whether to review an appeal or not upon weighing the merit of the appeal. As soon as the Supreme Court accepts a case, attorneys are required to submit a written copy of the Circuit Court proceedings to the Clerk of the Supreme Court. Next, the court decides whether to allow oral argument or not. If yes, the court will pick a date when the oral argument would be presented before the Judges.

Justices of the Supreme Court look at the arguments of both parties before making a unanimous decision. South Dakota Supreme Court Judgements are usually issued as opinions. The Supreme Court is composed of one Chief Justice and four Chief Justices appointed by the State Governor. Supreme Court Justices are selected from each of the five geographical appointment districts. The five Justices may decide who will become the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

South Dakota Circuit Courts serve as the trial courts of the state. The Circuit Court is assisted by the Magistrate Court, especially when the case in question is a misdemeanor criminal case or a small civil action. Circuit Courts hear civil cases, and there is a statewide procedure for such cases. A civil case starts when a petitioner files a written statement known as complaints. The Clerk of the Circuit Court will notify the defendant about the complaint. After that, the court schedules a pretrial conference where the issues are discussed, and a trial date is fixed.

Parties in a dispute may decide to settle outside the court, but where this is not possible, a trial is unavoidable. Circuit Court trials usually involve the presentation of arguments, evidence, and witnesses before the Judge. In South Dakota Magistrate Courts, the Judge mostly asks questions while each of the parties provides answers. Magistrate Court hearings are less formal, and the hearing may be conducted in front of a judge or a clerk. There are 43 Circuit Court Judges and 15 Magistrate Court Judges in South Dakota.


South Dakota Court Structure

What are Civil Court and Small Claims?

South Dakota Civil Courts hear cases in which the petitioner seeks compensation of $300,000 or more. There are over 250,000 such cases recorded yearly in South Dakota. These cases are heard in the Circuit Courts. They include general civil claims for $12,000 or more in damages. However, civil cases may also involve non-monetary claims, including disputes over restraining orders and properties.

South Dakota small claims courts are informal court proceedings where individuals sue for small losses of money or property. South Dakota small claims involve claims of $12,000 or less under S.D.C.L. 16-12c-13. To file a small claim, the individual is required to fill and submit the small claims form to the Court Clerk in the county where the defendant resides or where the loss occurred. This form is obtainable from the Court Clerk. Small claims do not necessarily need an attorney. It is noteworthy that in South Dakota, each court has a small claims division set up to handle cases within its jurisdiction.

What are Appeals and Court Limits?

Technically, an appeal refers to a plea to a higher court to review a trial court's judgment. In South Dakota, appeals are made to the Supreme Court, which serves as the court of last resort in the state. The decision of the court is final and binding on every party in the case. Before an appeal is scheduled, the Supreme Court ensures there is a substantial reason to review the case. An appeal is usually granted where the judgment may have been made based on a prejudicial error.

In South Dakota, appeals differ based on the trial court where the case was heard. Only the defendant can appeal a judgment in a small claims case, but either party may appeal a judgment in a civil case. An individual may also have a lawyer represent and file papers on their behalf in civil court. In contrast, in small claim appeals, the defendant may represent and submit the appeal papers themselves. The South Dakota Supreme Court may sustain a lower court's original decision, overturn it, or return it to the originating court.

Individuals are expected to accept the decision of the Supreme Court in good faith. In some cases, either of the parties may appeal to the Federal Supreme Court. However, most appeals to the court are usually rejected for lacking merit. Under 15-26A-6, the notice of appeal must be filed with the Clerk of the trial court no later than 30 days after a judgment order has been signed, and a written notice of entry is given to the adverse party. Appeals are usually denied when this stipulated time has elapsed.

What Are South Dakota Judgment Records?

South Dakota judgment records are documents describing the outcome of a case decided in a court of competent jurisdiction in South Dakota. A judgment is an order or court-issued declaration on the contested issues in a lawsuit. This order is issued following a trial or examination of case facts and typically marks the end of a case unless a party appeals the decision in a higher court.

The clerk of courts is the designated record custodian for judgment records in South Dakota. The South Dakota Sunshine Law lets interested members of the public obtain copies of these documents, provided the requester can provide the necessary details to facilitate a search. A search begins with an in-person visit to the clerk's office during regular business hours. The individual must submit a formal request, providing the case identifying details and paying the applicable court fees.   

The information in South Dakota judgment records varies with the case type. Still, persons who obtain these documents can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, a concise case description, and the court's decision on the contested matters.

What are South Dakota Bankruptcy Records?

South Dakota bankruptcy records refer to the financial data of individual and corporate debtors that have instituted legal proceedings under the United States Bankruptcy Code. The District of South Dakota Bankruptcy Court is the principal repository of South Dakota bankruptcy records.  The Bankruptcy Code allows debtors to reorganize their debts through a repayment plan or outright liquidation of assets. In South Dakota, attorneys are obligated to file all documents using the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF). On the other hand, a limited filing user can only use the CM/ECF to file specific claim-related documents. Individuals who routinely file claim-related documents on behalf of large creditors are known as frequently limited filing users. The Court’s website contains a list of documents that a limited filer can file. Access to the CM/ECF via PACER using unique login data is crucial for electronic filing in South Dakota.

Bankruptcy records, South Dakota liens, and judgments can all be found by searching the district where they originated. However, requestors are generally required to provide some information to make the search easier. Additionally, the requesting party is typically required to cover the cost of research and reproduction of copies (if applicable).

How Do I Find My Case Number in South Dakota?

A case number is a unique number assigned to a case to differentiate it from others. The case is assigned after a case is filed with the Clerk of the Court. It provides information about the time of filling, the court where the filling took place, and the official in charge of the case. To find a case number, interested persons may submit a request to the Clerk of the Court in person or do so through the Court Administrator's Office.

In-person requests require that the requestors visit the court building, particularly the Clerk's Office, where the case was docketed. The Court Clerk is charged with the duty of ensuring that requestors get the information they seek. However, they may be requested to pay a fee for this service. South Dakota Court Clerks determine the amount requestors pay based on the labor, time, or machine required to meet the request. In most counties of the state, individuals are allowed to request case numbers by sending mail requests to the Clerk of the Court. This will require the individual to provide ample information about themselves, including a means of identification.

Individuals may also request a case number from a remote location by using the court records search tools to find case numbers. This may attract a fee depending on the website the individual opts for.

Can You Look Up Court Cases in South Dakota?

Yes, interested persons may look up court cases in South Dakota. This is usually done in person, at the office of a Court Clerk. The individual must submit a written request to the Clerk, who ensures that the requested records are available before proceeding. Each South Dakota court has rules and regulations guiding the request for updates on court cases in the state. Due to Covid-19, the state has reduced the operation of Court Clerks all over the state. This means that court records may not be easily accessible from the Court of the Clerk.

Does South Dakota Hold Remote Trials?

South Dakota courts are still very much in operation compared to other states in the country. However, during court hearings, the number of persons allowed into the court is significantly reduced, and measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Although there is no law stating that South Dakota can hold remote trials, the state has encouraged attorneys to reschedule court dates and adopt video appearances more than before.

The Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency on March 13, 2020, granting Judges of each of the seven judicial circuits the authority to respond to COVID-19 in their jurisdiction. Since the emergence of the virus, the state's video appearance capabilities have tripled. Judges may hear cases remotely, and attorneys may perform their duties from a location outside the courtroom. The Supreme Court also suspended the state's 180 days rule, which requires a defendant to appear in court within 180 days of the first appearance before a judicial official.

What Is the South Dakota Supreme Court?

The South Dakota Supreme Court is the highest in the state of South Dakota since 1889. The Supreme Court is also the final appellate court where decisions of Circuit Courts are reviewed. The court is charged with the duty of maintaining a stable system of justice within the State of South Dakota. Also, the court issues original or remedial writ and advises the Governor of the state regarding the scope of executive power. The Supreme Court also regulates the activities of the South Dakota Unified Court System.

The Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and four Justices appointed by the Governor. These justices decide cases brought before the court, and the Supreme Court's judgment is referred to as opinions. For a copy of the Supreme Court's opinion, requestors may notify the Supreme Court's Clerk in writing. The request shall be sent to the Clerk via mail.

South Dakota Circuit Courts

South Dakota Circuit Courts are the state's trial courts. These courts have jurisdiction over the bulk of criminal proceedings and civil litigation in the state. South Dakota Civil Courts comprise seven Judicial Districts, 43 Circuit Judges, 15 Magistrate Judges, and one per-time Magistrate Court. Circuit Courts have exclusive jurisdiction in felony trials, arraignment, and all types of civil actions except where there is a concurrent jurisdiction with the magistrate court. South Dakota Circuit Courts also have appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the Magistrate Courts.

South Dakota Magistrate Courts

South Dakota Magistrate Courts assist the Circuit Courts in hearing misdemeanor criminal cases and small civil actions. Magistrate Courts hear trials of civil actions where the damage or claim does not exceed $12,000. Magistrate Courts have a limited jurisdiction but bring the judicial system closer to the average citizen. The jurisdiction of the Magistrate Court is determined by who presides over the case. A Magistrate Judge or Clerk of the Magistrate, who has received special training may preside over the case.

South Dakota State Archives

State Archives

Search Includes

  • Arrests & Warrants
  • Criminal Records
  • Driving Violations
  • Inmate Records
  • Felonies & Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
  • Marriages & Divorces
  • Death Records
  • Birth Records
  • Property Records
  • Asset Records
  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • Unclaimed State Funds
  • Relatives & Associates
  • Address Registrations
  • Affiliated Phone Numbers
  • Affiliated Email Addresses

Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

South Dakota

First constructed in 1890, the Old Minnehaha County Courthouse is one of the oldest in the state.

  • South Dakota has 3 different courts in their court system: The South Dakota Supreme Court, the South Dakota Circuit Courts, and the South Dakota Magistrate Court.
  • The South Dakota Supreme Court was founded in 1889 in the city of Pierre.
  • South Dakota’s Supreme Court has 5 judicial positions, each of whom serve 8 year terms.
  • There are 7 judicial circuits to represent the South Dakota Circuit Courts. There are 38 circuit judges in the circuit court system.