Jury Nullification

Check out this article about “Amendment A” in South Dakota, an initiative that will allow juries to question the laws under which a person has been charged, not just whether or not that person broke the law. It would allow juries to agree that technically, somebody may have broken the law, but if the law is completely asinine, they may still acquit that person. It makes sense for drug possession cases and other “victimless crime” cases, though not necessarily for violent and other such crimes.
Here’s what gets me, though: “Opponents of the amendment, which include most of the establishment bar in South Dakota, say it is antidemocratic in allowing a small group of people to decide the wisdom of a law.” What is the state legislature then? Certainly not a large group of people that decides the wisdom of the law. Sure, they represent the people of the state, but they’re still a small group of people who believe they can tell other people what’s right and what’s wrong for them. And in the case of most drug laws, Utah’s alcohol laws, and many other ridiculous laws that exist around the country, a jury should have the power to decide whether or not the person being tried did anything wrong, not just whether or not they broke a law.
Here are two more articles on the matter.

3 thoughts on “Jury Nullification

  1. the difference, of course, between juries and legislatures is that juries have absolutely zero accountability to the electorate. that accountability is the absolute foundation of democracy–do something dumb, and don’t expect to retain your position.
    besides the total lack of accountability, there’s no guarantee that these people are actually qualified to determine whether any law is reasonable or not.

  2. Both of your points make some sense. But still, what does more harm: a single jury letting a quadriplegic off the hook for lighting one up, or a single state legislature being responsible for imprisoning thousands of people for the same or similar offenses?
    I’m sure we can agree that there are some pretty stupid laws out there. That doesn’t mean all drugs users should be let off the hook, either. I’m sure many of them use drugs in an irresponsible manner or do other things that make it “wrong,” and since I doubt we’ll see drug law reform anytime soon, what better solution than to let a jury decide on a case-by-case basis?

  3. even if the proposed amendment only applies to extant drug law (which i don’t think it does), i think it’s a remarkably bad precedent to allow twelve potentially unqualified john or jane does decide public policy. is this society one of law and order or legal inconsistency, depending on the jury one happens to draw.
    besides, you’d have to assume that if the laws were really so darn unpopular or unreasonable, the electorate would have the recourse of replacing the individuals who make them. that, and not a flawed proposal that places power in the hands of a very subjective few, seems like the appropriate avenue for reform of extant law.

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