RAPID CITY, S.D. — If a South Dakotan wants to see public court records, they can only do that by looking them up on computer at a state courthouse during work hours between Monday and Friday.
That means a Pine Ridge resident would have to drive an hour to the court in Hot Springs or 50 minutes to Martin. Many people in Meade, Butte and other large western counties also face long drives.
So to help improve access to court records, the UJS is currently piloting a program that will eventually allow the public to see records from any computer, said Greg Sattizahn, administrator of the South Dakota Unified Judicial System. The website will be similar to the PACER website, which lets people view and download federal court records for a fee.
"We recognize that the (computer) terminals are kind of limited in their functionality," he said.
Lawyers can currently view documents related to their cases on any computer for free and on the new website, Sattizahn said. The new website, which is being used by a small group of lawyers before expanding this month, will allow them to see documents related to other cases for 10 cents per page. The website will then be open to the general public, who will also have to pay 10 cents per page they view, in late 2019 or early 2020.
The fees will help cover enhanced technology within the UJS, Sattizahn said.
The public computers at the courthouses only let people search by case number, which can be retrieved by telling a clerk the name of the defendant and their alleged crime. The new website will allow people to search by name if a date of birth or county and date range of the alleged offense are also entered. Requiring the extra information with the name is meant "to ensure the correct person and case is returned and to safeguard against data mining," Sattizahn said.
To search for someone's complete criminal background, he said, people will still need to pay $20 at a state court or at ujspars.sd.gov. The online court calendar (ujscourttv.sd.gov), which lists hearings the day they happen, is not going to expand to listing hearings that are scheduled further out. Federal courts in South Dakota have a website that lists hearings scheduled in the next five days.
The new website will improve access to public records and should help cut down on paper and printing costs. But in the meantime, before the website goes live, expect to pay more when printing court documents in Rapid City or at any other court that previously allowed for double-sided printing.
The public computers at the state courts were recently upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which requires new security whose software prevents the computers from allowing double-sided printing even if printers are capable of it, said Kent Grode, IT director for the UJS.
Most documents are free to view on computers made available to the public, but it costs 20 cents to print each page. Before the upgrade, people visiting courts with double-sided printers could print two online pages onto one piece of paper. Now, with only single-sided printing, they will pay twice as much.
Printing costs can add up, especially because police reports can be many pages long. In order to see those documents, the public must pay to have them printed and redacted by a clerk.