HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Couple Promoting 'Common Sense' Amendment On Ballot
Pubdate: Sat, 20 Jul 2002
Source: Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (SD)
Copyright: 2000 Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan
Author: Doris Haugen, AP Staff Writer


SIOUX FALLS -- Larry and Honey Dodge, who are campaigning for a ballot 
measure they say would give those accused of a crime more say in court, are 
bumping into an obstacle they hadn't counted on.

Their proposal is labeled Constitutional Amendment A on the Nov. 5 general 
election ballot.

But as they campaign, some voters think the Dodges are experts on the 
Amendment A that was defeated in the June 4 primary. That measure dealt 
with the state's corporate farming laws and spurred an emotional debate 
among farmers and farm groups.

"We've had people say 'I've been wanting to know about this farm thing,"' 
Honey Dodge said during a campaign swing through eastern South Dakota.  The 
Dodges, who recently moved from Montana to Rapid City, have had to plead 
ignorance. "We don't understand it. We weren't here at the time," Larry 
Dodge said.

If approved, the latest Amendment A would mean people accused of a crime 
could argue that certain laws have no merit and could be ignored by juries, 
Larry Dodge said.

The proposal would amend the South Dakota Constitution to add that the 
accused has the right "to argue the merits, validity and applicability of 
the law, including the sentencing laws."

The amendment, the Dodges say, would help regain the type of 
citizen-controlled government the nation's founders envisioned.

Today, too much power rests with people at the top, Larry Dodge said.

"We the people don't have as much as we're supposed to and we're kind of 
ending up obedient instead of in the master role."

At the proposal's heart is increasing the power of a jury, he said.

The nation's founders realized juries were part of the system of government 
checks and balances, said Dodge.

"The juries could decide whether the evidence could support a conviction 
and they could also decide whether the law makes sense," he said. "That's 
the connection that I'm trying to make."

Tom Barnett, executive director of the State Bar Association of South 
Dakota, calls it "hocus-pocus." If it passes, the amendment will harm the 
judiciary, he said.

"It sets up a procedure where one juror can say, 'This is a stupid law and 
I'm not going to enforce it and I'm going to vote to acquit,"' Barnett said.

Whether it's a law on statutory rape, domestic violence or drugs, one juror 
could decide how the law would be applied. The jury would be hung and 
prosecutors would be forced into bringing an appeal -- all at an additional 
cost, he said.

"What this does is empower one person to trump everyone else in the state, 
and that is a dangerous concept and about as un-American as possible," said 

Dodge said it's understandable that prosecutors wouldn't like it.

"They grasp at straws for reasons to be against it. But they usually 
haven't done a lot of homework. But they do realize that if jurors are able 
to judge the law and its application, they're going to lose some cases."

Dodge has sponsored various proposals in about 20 states over the years. 
Some have been heard in state legislatures others have been placed on ballots.

None has been successful.

But it will be different this time, the Dodges say.

They have revised earlier proposals and chose South Dakota for a test run 
in part because it has an uncomplicated process for placing a measure on 
the ballot, Larry Dodge said.

They also brought it to the state because South Dakotans stick up for 
what's right, he added.

Supporters had little trouble collecting the 34,000 signatures needed to 
put the plan on the ballot, said Dodge. The couple dubbed the plan the 
"Common Sense" amendment after people in the state started calling it by 
that name, they said.

"There's been lots of good response," Honey Dodge said.

Barnett said the way to make changes in government is to work with 
lawmakers in a public forum. One of the advantages of going through the 
legislative process is both sides of a proposal are debated in public. Only 
after that debate will lawmakers decide whether a bill has sufficient merit 
to become law.

That is the democratic process, he said.

Proponents of the bill are pushing their own agenda, Barnett said.

The Dodges list Bob Newland, a Libertarian candidate for attorney general, 
among those who support the amendment.

Newland has been active in SoDakNORML, an affiliate of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In the past he has asked the 
Legislature to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and the 
growing of industrial hemp.

Newland's proposal to legalize hemp also will be on the fall ballot.

"They haven't made any secret about the legalization of certain drugs," 
said Barnett. "Rather than tell the people what they really want through a 
public forum, they want jurors to have a right to exercise their 
independent judgment."

Any attempt to present Amendment A as a way to regain the people's power is 
a "show game. It's hocus-pocus," Barnett said.

When a similar proposal was brought to the 2002 Legislature, lawmakers 
defeated it before it reached the floor. "I hope there will be a similar 
rejection by voters this fall," said Barnett.
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