- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota lawmaker and the attorney general are at odds over a proposal to use seized drug money to save on court-appointed attorney costs.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said the state should use money seized from suspects in drug investigations to help pay the legal defense bills of defendants who can’t afford a lawyer. Hickey has introduced a bill that would require more thorough accounting for the Drug Control Fund and direct some money toward counties’ legal fees incurred after arrests, the Argus Leader reports (http://argusne.ws/13uclBZ ).

The fund includes money seized during drug probes and money from the sale of seized property, such as cars. It’s administered by Attorney General Marty Jackley’s office.

“My thought is that we should put some of that money not just into catching more bad guys, but put some of it into the cost of defending them we’re stuck with afterward,” Hickey said. “We get excited about sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, but after those tickets get written, someone has to pick up the tab.”

Counties are legally obligated to offer public defenders. Minnehaha County has spent $3.8 million on defense this year and has received roughly $820,000 in reimbursements from defendants. It also has more than $26 million in liens on defendants who haven’t paid court bills.

Jackley said he doesn’t “support using the profits of criminals to defend their activities.” The seized money currently pays drug testing bills for cities and counties and also helps buy law enforcement equipment, he said.

Allocating some of the Drug Control Fund to public defender costs could force local agencies to pay for drug tests, he said. Jackley instead suggested screening defendants who ask for court-appointed attorneys more thoroughly to weed out some defendants who could afford a lawyer.

“Don’t take away from a known quantity until looking into some of these other options,” Jackley said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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