Amicus lector
Actually, no one is going to prison for animal cruelty. This is South Dakota, remember?

Sometimes reporters make mistakes. I’ve made my share. But I saw one yesterday that jumped out of the screen at me and begged for a correction.

KOTA-TV in Rapid City reported that Donald and Terry Harwood are facing 10 years in prison for animal cruelty. They were charged with 10 counts of inhumane treatment of animals for the alleged maltreatment of horses on a Pennington County farm.

KOTA said the men could get 10 years in prison. The Associated Press picked it up and sent out the same story, which meant everyone picked it up. Including us.

Here’s the problem: No one goes to prison for animal cruelty in South Dakota.

These guys won’t either, according to Pennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Patrick Grode, who’s prosecuting the case and this morning confirmed what I already knew: That the men could go to jail for 10 years – one year for each horse – but not prison.

Why did I know this right away?

Well, because South Dakota has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the nation without felony penalties for animal cruelty. We used to be one of a handful of states, but as of this year, we’re the last one in which no act of animal cruelty is considered bad enough to deserve a prison sentence.

I’ve written a lot of stories about efforts to pass felony animal cruelty laws in Pierre. Ag interests are worried that any law would end up unfairly penalizing routine farm practices, regardless of how the law is written or how many assurances they get from supporters.

Legislators have always sided with the ag folks on the issue. 

At some point, I imagine the activists will return, this time armed with the “we’re the only one without this” argument. Maybe they’ll reference the Pennington County case. Who knows?

One thing is for certain, however: Regardless of how poorly the Harwoods handled their horses, they won’t be going to prison for animal cruelty.

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