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New Underwood man who rejects court's authority narrowly avoids jail
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New Underwood man who rejects court's authority narrowly avoids jail

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A New Underwood man who has been uncooperative during a judge's numerous attempts to arraign him narrowly avoided being sent back to jail for his behavior.

James Kopecky, 57, is charged with grand theft for allegedly not paying $1,239 in water bills owed to New Underwood and refusing to provide a DNA sample when arrested. He has expressed beliefs in court and reportedly to police that align with the sovereign-citizen movement.

The ideology involves various conspiracy theories, but its main tenet is that residents are sovereign from U.S. jurisdiction and therefore don't have to follow laws, pay taxes or answer to government authorities. Kopecky has rejected the label. 

On Friday, Kopecky represented himself at the state court in Rapid City after his lawyer asked to be dismissed from the case. He said he didn't want another lawyer. 

Your "inability to comply and follow orders" is why I've scheduled this contempt of court hearing, Judge Heidi Linngren told Kopecky. During past arraignments, Kopecky has spoken over Linngren and made various arguments, including that the court doesn't have jurisdiction over him.  

Linngren warned Kopecky that if he is found in contempt, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that he can be jailed, fined or even bound and gagged. 

"I don't want to exercise those options," she said as she tried to arraign him again. "Are you going to cooperate?"

Linngren asked that question at least eight more times during the nearly hour-long hearing. What happens is "entirely up to you," she said. 

But each time, Kopecky said he objected and argued that he had been held in jail too long before seeing a judge, that his lawyer refused to file motions for him, that evidence he has would be inadmissible after arraignment, and that this should be a civil, not criminal case. 

"I have begged you" to file motions about your arguments, Linngren said. "If you have been wronged," I want to hear those arguments but can't unless they have been properly documented. 

Finally, Linngren said she was revoking Kopecky's bond and he would be sent to jail. 

"I really don't want you to sit in jail" but you violated your bond condition to follow court procedures, she said. 

As a sheriff's deputy slowly approached him, Kopecky announced he will go ahead with the arraignment because he has an upcoming surgery. 

Linngren proceeding with the arraignment, reading him his rights, charges, maximum sentences and asking if he understood them. He said he did and Linngren entered not guilty pleas on his behalf. 

At one point, he said he didn't understand his DNA charge and Linngren read him the statute. 

According to SDCL 23-5A-5.2, adults arrested for "qualifying offenses," which includes all felonies, are required to provide DNA samples. SDCL 23-5A-14 makes refusing to supply a DNA sample a Class 5 felony.

Kopecky refused to provide a DNA sample or be fingerprinted and photographed when he was booked into jail for his grand theft charge, according to a report from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office. A judge later granted a search warrant for the DNA, and a deputy told him that if he doesn't consent, he will be restrained and charged. Kopecky again refused to comply but a DNA sample was ultimately taken after he was restrained in a chair. 

At the end of the arraignment, Linngren said she would appoint Kopecky a lawyer to serve as second chair, which means Kopecky will sign his own motions but the lawyer will help write them.  

"I'm glad to tell you you're free to go," she said after scheduling him for a hearing at 3 p.m. on March 6.

Kopecky is also waiting to hear from the city of New Underwood after he sent a complaint about his water being turned off to the Division of Consumer Protection at the Attorney General's Office, according to a document he gave the Journal. He also provided scans of checks he's sent to the city for his water bill.

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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