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Monday, September 23, 2002
Yesterday's New York Times had an article in it by Adam Liptak about a proposed amendment to the constitution of South Dakota, which would allow defendants in criminal cases to admit they are guilty but argue that the law(s) they are guilty of violating are unjust. Voters in the state will vote on the amendment in November.
Nobody knows for sure to what extent this already happens but it is believed by many who study or are involved in the criminal justice system that juries already refuse to convict people they believe are guilty because they believe that a conviction would nonetheless be unjust. The practice is called jury nullification and it has a long history in western legal traditions. It is also one way that in theory juries can act to curb the power of legistlators, prosecutors and members of law enforcement.
For more on the proposed South Dakota amendment check out the actual language of the amendmentand commonsensejustice.us, a site put together by proponents of the amendment. I couldn't find any sites dedicating to opposing the amendment. For more on jury nullification, go to google's set of links on jury powers.