Guest Column: Driving Drunk in South Dakota by Sen. Brent “B.R.” Hoffman

Driving Drunk in South Dakota
by Sen. Brent “B.R.” Hoffman

One of the many great things about glorious South Dakota is that we don’t rest upon our greatness.  We’re proud of our state, yet we recognize it can always be better.  Which brings me to the uncomfortable topic of drunk driving.

You may have read recent reports ranking South Dakota #1 in the nation for drunk driving fatalities over Thanksgiving weekend, but you probably didn’t read that our state also tops the nation on most other weekends.  According to Forbes, our state has the highest DUI arrest rate and the sixth-highest number of drunk drivers under age 21 involved in fatal crashes.  Zutobi ranks our state #2 (behind only Montana) in road fatalities and DUI arrests.  In 2021, more than 35% of road fatalities in our state were linked to impaired driving.

 While most drunk driving isn’t considered a violent crime, it’s certainly a preventable crime of choice and consequence.  It cuts innocent lives short and destroys families.  The college student killed on his birthday.  The teenage girl who will never graduate from high school.  The young man who will never walk again. Heartbreaking examples like these are not isolated incidents, but part of a system or culture that doesn’t demand accountability.

This lack of accountability stems from our state sentencing laws.  South Dakota has the most lenient DUI sentencing laws in the nation, as reported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Almost all states require an interlock device for multiple DUI convictions, but South Dakota is not one of them.  Any DUI can result in damage or death, but it’s the multiple offenses that are most concerning.  A few months ago, two men in Sioux Falls were each charged for their 8th DUI.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Spearfish was convicted of her 7th DUI.  She received one day in jail and a suspended sentence. 

If South Dakota is to get serious about drunk driving, a good place to start would be a complete repeal of the so-called look-back provisions.  In short, the state law only allows prosecutors to “look-back” 10 years to determine the number of offenses.  So if an offender had three DUI convictions from 2000-2010, the sentencing clock would be reset with the next conviction after 2020, and it would be charged as a first offense rather than a fourth offense. Many citizens, even lawyers and judges, agree it complicates sentencing and undermines accountability.

This next session, we’ll consider a bill to repeal the look-back statute, and we’re hopeful it will be an important step forward in our state’s approach to drunk driving.  This bill, “An Act to improve accountability for driving under the influence,” has been developed and coordinated with attorneys, law enforcement, legislators and victim’s rights groups.  It will simplify sentencing, improve accountability, encourage deterrence and bring South Dakota laws in line with many other states.  We believe it will make our great state even better, and we ask for your support.


The author served a career in the military, surviving the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.  He’s a published author, occasional newspaper columnist and currently serves as a state senator for District 9 in glorious South Dakota.

34 thoughts on “Guest Column: Driving Drunk in South Dakota by Sen. Brent “B.R.” Hoffman”

    1. Not a fan of his term limits proposition, but how is repealing the look back a bad idea? Pretty sure we don’t have a limit for any other felonies so why the exception for DUIs? It’s high time that drunk drivers be scourged like the plague on society they are.

      What should also be done is establishing sentencing rules that an accident involving a drunk driver which results in a death or SBI to have mandatory minimum sentences of thirty years and no way to have the charge dismissed by a plea deal.

  1. When will we start looking for solutions to societal problems that don’t involve filling prisons to the rafters?

    1. I guess when you have the sherrif pull up yo your house late at night and deliver the news to your family that one of your sibblings had been killed by a drunk driver (such as what happened to my family) you can then look for the societal solution…until then, why don’t you shut the hell up!

        1. And coddling irresponsible individuals who habitually CHOOSE to make the wrong/criminal decision isn’t the brightest idea. If you ever have one of your family members killed by someone who chose to drive drunk then you can stand before the judge and plead for mercy on his/her behalf and tell the judge this person should only get a minor punishment and then be set free to do it again and spread misery around to other families to share. People like you are the problem. Mr. Powers won’t let me use the words but my suggestion to you is to follow the words that begin with these letters…G F Y.

  2. I’ve often wondered why South Dakota had such a horrible reputation for DUIs, I thought this article was very infomration, thank you!

  3. Great ideas, totally agreed this needs to be a bigger concern. I guess it doesn’t help when you can drive drunk the wrong way down the interstate, kill a kid and then get pardoned by the governor.

  4. So if someone has DUI’s in their 20s, gets their life together, and then gets one in their 60’s with a BAC of .08 for having to much wine at a birthday party, they should be sent to the Pen on a mandatory 5 year prison sentence? That is a bad idea.

      1. Sounds like someone has never been to the rural parts of our state. Good luck walking back to the farm at 2am on the side of the road, keep an eye out for elected officials browsing the web while they drive home.

    1. Haha that’s not how it works. You wouldn’t even be sent to prison for five years for a 4th offense let alone a 2nd offense. Did you read the column about the guy who got one day in prison for a 8th dui. Your talking point needs some work.

    2. You clearly have never been affected by a drunk driver. One of my sisters was killed by a drunk driver on July 15th 1972. I remember the news being delivered to us like it was yesterday. I saw the devastation this caused my parents and my siblings. It is way past time for SD to get tough on DUI. I don’t care if their blood alcohol is .08 they are still legally drunk. I have zero sympathy for anyone convicted of DUI.

  5. I’m in Pierre during session and would rather remain anonymous, but I’ll tell you that many legislators and lobbyists think Senator Hoffman is one of the best in the place. Obviously he has detractors who like to comment in this blog, but even people who dislike him agree he’s smart and a great communicator. Sheriffs have wanted a strong sentencing bill for many years, and it was amazing to watch him push it through with just a few days of experience. I think we talk too often about personalities or who we like or don’t when the poeple’s business should be about ideas on their own merit but I tell you this bill will have a lot of support across the state much like that last one and I wouldn’t bet against it.

  6. It is always easy to select statistics to prove the point, especially since Hoffman’s has a reputation for misusing information to serve his agenda.

    How about we pull from the statistics incidences where they occurred where this law might be superseded by another jurisdiction and see how strong Hoffman’s argument is or maybe we get information to have options that might be more effective.

  7. People with multiple DUIs generally (almost always) have addiction issues.

    This change isn’t going to change their behavior. They probably won’t know about it, and if they do they likely won’t understand it. Stop by a bar some night and ask them what the look-back period is for DUIs. You will get blank stares.

    This bill, much like Hoffman’s bill last year, is based on the fallacy that tougher sentencing is a deterrent. The offenders rarely know and rationally consider the potential penalties before behaving badly.

    The effect is: lots of additional expense, and no deterrence.

    1. Most criminals know the law better than young lawyers out of law school. Presumptive probation is no deterrent either. Criminals know the law and they know that a few days in jail or getting probation is no threat.

    2. I would agree with your observation. An idealistic person, in this case lawmaker, thinks that because there’s a stiffer fine or if the law is more forceful, the behavior will stop. We all know that an increased fine for texting while driving stopped it right in its tracks.

  8. It’s weird how commenters here want criminal reform for drunks but are probably just fine with prison time for cannabis users.

  9. All these legislators are scrambling trying to fill the new prison. I think you’ll need more than DUI offenders in prison to fill that place up, Brent. Statistical trends are showing less and less people are drinking. Maybe if you ban Uber/Lyft you’ll incentivize more DUI’s, but still not enough.

    People are all worried about $345 / year to feed a child at school, but are totally okay with $266,666.00 per prisoner to build a new prison. Makes total sense on a “fiscally conservative” level…..

    1. “All these legislators are scrambling trying to fill the new prison”

      Oh please, spare us the dakota septic tank talking points. The thing is sbout you and the herr cory dooshbag crowd is that you’re full of criticism for SD but never, NEVER, willing to follow your own BS.

      1. “All these legislators are scrambling trying to fill the new prison”

        They want the same benefits they get in Oregon and California with zero meaningful consequences for their actions.

      2. Oh, come on, don’t be giving anyone credit for my statement, I haven’t seen one article from your guy Cory, who apparently is always in your head (CDS), on the prison cost and tax burden. I’m sure by citing facts you think I’m a crazy dem, but before MAGA, that is what people would make decisions on. I am not going to stop basing my decisions on logic and factual reasoning just because some people get a wild as$ idea.

        1. “All these legislators are scrambling trying to fill the new prison.”

          Logic and factual reasoning? Your statement is more hyperbole than anything else.

  10. I listened to testimony on two judcial laws last year and the anonymous comments sound almsot exactly like a state representative. It’s hard to believe the number of Republicans who don’t support public safety.

  11. This proposal by Senator Hoffman could have many positives. We keep dangerous drivers off the road. While being incarcerated rather than sit in a cell doing nothing productive we could have them help build SD Governors Houses which are in critical need. A substance abuse treatment program would need to be included along with other mental health counseling. South Dakota desperately needs affordable housing. Win win for everyone!

  12. I hear this guys name mentioned too often in the hallways to think he’s a humble servant with some ideas. I know several legislators who can’t stand him. He’s as ambitious as anyone and only trying to position himself for reelection and will serve the maximum despite his past statements about term limits. I’ll bet he’s angling to run for governor and you can bet he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his name in the news to prepare to run against Dusty.

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