Mecosta County Man Illustrates Why Jury Nullification is Important

Imagine if you will, passing out educational pamphlets to other people on the street in front of a courthouse.  The pamphlets express factual data about a totally legal activity, are not in any way obscene, and are being distributed to anybody that will take them.  You are on the public sidewalk and not otherwise breaking any laws or local ordinances that you know of. 

Imagine then, a judge who decides that your activities amount to felonious jury tampering, even though there isn't any trial going on or any jurors around that you know of.  Exactly what incendiary pamphlet was being handed out?  One that described your rights as a citizen and juror to engage in jury nullification. 

Jury nullification occurs in a trial when a jury acquits a defendant, even though the members of the jury may believe that the defendant did the illegal act, yet they don't believe he or she should be punished for it.  This may be because they believe the particular law broken is unjust, the punishment is too severe or unwarranted, or that justice was perverted by law enforcers and/or prosecutors.   Here is a link which tells you what you need to know about the topic:  Jury Nullification: Why Every American Needs to Learn This Taboo Ve...

In this case, a former pastor was passing out literature on jury nullification when he found himself being harassed by a first year judge who obviously needs a primer on how the system is supposed to work.  The story below from Mlive explains all the details.  Unfortunately, it looks as if the Mecosta County citizens are going to have to pay for the new judge's misunderstanding of what the law allows.  One can hope that this criminal trial against the pamphleteer pastor actually takes place in a courtroom with a seated jury.  A similar incident that happened in Denver follows this.

BIG RAPIDS, MI – A 39-year-old former pastor was arrested and jailed in Mecosta County after he handed out fliers informing people about jury nullification in front of the county courthouse.

Keith Wood (pictured left) said he was handing out pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association on Nov. 24 while standing on the sidewalks along Elm Street.

Wood said he was inspired by what he read online about the proposition that jurors can follow their conscience if they think a law or prosecution is patently wrong and refuse to find a defendant guilty regardless of instructions from a judge – a concept referred to as jury nullification.

"I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ," said Wood, who explained his decision to hand out the fliers he received from the Montana-based organization. "Jesus said 'the truth will set you free' and I want people to know the truth.

"If you don't use your rights, you lose them," Wood said about why he decided to head down to the sidewalks outside the courthouse.

The flier is titled "What rights do you have as a juror that the judge won't tell you about?"

As he was handing out the pamphlet to anyone who would take one, Wood, a father of seven, said someone came out of the courthouse and told him to come inside and talk to a judge. Wood said he asked the woman if he was being detained and then said he preferred to stay where he was.

A little while later, a court deputy came outside and told Wood that the judge wanted to talk to him, and if he refused to do so, the Big Rapids police would come and arrest him.

Wood said under threat of arrest he went inside the courthouse where former 20-year county prosecutor and newly-elected Mecosta County District Court Judge Peter Jaklevic told a deputy to "place him in custody for jury tampering."

                                                 Judge Peter Jaklevic with one of his own pamphlets

Wood was walked to the connecting sheriff's department and jail. He was arrested and placed locked up with a $150,000 bond. Wood remained in jail for about 12 hours before he paid 10 percent of the bond using a credit card.

Wood was charged with jury tampering, a one-year misdemeanor and obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Wood said other than a drunk driving charge as a teen, he has never had any run-in with the law. He served for five years as a pastor in Colorado, leased cars for a few years and for the last five years has been a self-employed insurance broker.

"It's just outrageous," said Wood's attorney Lansing-based David Kallman. "The
government can't just come in and step on people's First Amendment rights."

Kallman said his client had no case at the court, knew of no cases and no jury had been seated at the time he was handing out the fliers.

"There was no jury to tamper with," Kallman said.

Kallman said the judge saw people in the courthouse reading the brochures and then overstepped his bounds by ordering an arrest in violation of Wood's rights.

Kallman said when Wood called his office, after being denied a court-appointed lawyer, he was convinced Wood was not telling him the whole story.

"I thought that there had to be more here, but there's not," Kallman said.

The judge has since recused himself from the case and would not answer questions regarding it. Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede has not responded to requests for comment.

Kallman said in addition to having the case thrown out when it goes for a preliminary exam on Dec. 8, he believes there is a federal court-level violation of Wood's rights.

Wood said he wants the case dismissed and to repay the $15,000 to his credit card company. He said he is praying about whether he wants to make a federal case out of it.

Earlier this summer, two Denver activists, Mark Iannicelli and Eric Brandt, distributed jury nullification pamphlets outside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver.  On July 27, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey charged each of them with seven counts of jury tampering, a felony punishable by one to three years in prison. The seven counts were based on pamphlets received by seven jury pool members.

The statute cited by Morrissey makes it a crime to "communicate with a juror" outside of a judicial proceeding "with intent to influence (the) juror's vote, opinion, decision or other action in a case." But neither Iannicelli nor Brandt is accused of trying to affect the outcome of any particular case. They were merely distributing general information about jury rights.

Denver conceded such activity is constitutionally protected after David Lane, the attorney who represents Iannicelli and Brandt, filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of two other activists and the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA). The city stipulated that "plaintiffs who wish to engage in peacefully passing out jury nullification literature to passersby on the (courthouse) plaza are entitled to do so."

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I've heard the term before but never knew what it was. It is just absurd that someone handing on pamphlets that explain what juries can do is being harassed and jailed. I think Mecosta County made a grave mistake when they elected this judge. It makes one wonder what other laws are being suppressed by the Officers of the Courts. What's scary is that even if a person is innocent they can be financially ruined by massive legal fees while trying to defend themselves.

One would hope that the chief judge or prosecutor of Mecosta County would have the sense enough to admonish the Freshman judge for doing something so silly.  But officials are getting increasingly averse to finding fault in their fellow officials.  In a corrupt politico-media system, when they do point out wrongdoing, they become a target.

But if we look at the positives, an event like this is perhaps an even better way of getting the public informed about jury nullification than handing out flyers.  Mr. Wood deserves some reparations, and I hope we had a legal system that would assign the paying of those reparations solely by the fool judge who was at fault.

Here is an expert analysis of the Mecosta situation by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh who read about the Mecosta County situation and offered an analysis that has enough precedent references regarding the free speech implications  for the legally-unchallenged, and understandable examples and language in his explanation for the rest of us.

If the Judge and prosecutor are allowed to continue this insane prosecution and if the defendant is found guilty then that means that the thing wood is being accused of can never be discussed by anyone anywhere because every citizen is a potential juror.  Even our discussion here is illegal according to that idiot judge. Hell, even a judge would be in violation if he instructed the jurors about Jury Nullification because he would be influencing the jury. 

The Mecosta County judges, prosecutor, and even a district judge from Isabella County called in to hear an appeal show how out of touch they are with core American values as they continue the persecution of Keith Wood for handing out factual informational pamphlets on a sidewalk.  It's sad when local prosecutors and judges conspire against the State and Federal Constitution so blatantly and wrongly.  I see a lot better luck for Keith in the MI Appeals Court.  FOX 17 reports:

MECOSTA COUNTY, Mich. -- Twenty-seven months into his case, a judge denied the appeal for the man convicted of jury tampering, after passing out jury rights' pamphlets on a sidewalk before the Mecosta County Courthouse.
Friday in the Mecosta County, Isabella County District Judge Eric Janes upheld Keith Wood's conviction for the one-year misdemeanor jury tampering. Wood was escorted in handcuffs from the courtroom he first faced Nov. 24 2015, after he says Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic ordered his arrest for passing out 50 Fully Informed Jury Association fliers. Wood stood on the sidewalk in front of that courthouse the day another trial was set to begin.

Wood was initially charged with a five-year felony for obstructing justice and jury tampering, then held on a $150,000 bond two days before Thanksgiving that year.
"[Wood's] record was fine, he’s no flight risk whatsoever, eight children, and they set $150,000 bond?" Kallman said Friday in court. "Your Honor, I think that speaks volumes to the government action here.”
“It has a huge chilling effect on people," said David Kallman to FOX 17, Keith Wood's attorney, regarding this ruling.
"I guess you better not be on public sidewalks, and better not be handing out information to anybody, because you could get prosecuted.”
Kallman and Wood believe this case has dire implications for First Amendment rights, despite the fact they were barred from arguing free speech during Wood's trial last summer.
“Of any kind of speech you can think of, the Supreme Court has repeatedly said, speech in public areas and public sidewalks, pubic fora, have the highest level of protection and therefore have the highest level of scrutiny," Kallman argued Friday during oral arguments for their appeal.
Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede refutes Wood's First Amendment rights, and argued Wood's speech became threats to a jury.
"When speech is the means for committing an offense, then it’s not protected; it is outside the constitutional protection of the First Amendment," Thiede told Judge Janes on Friday. "And so what we have here is speech that had an intent and an end other than making a speech, it had and end of influencing a jury."
After his felony charge was dropped, Wood went to trial for jury tampering; however, his defense was also barred from mentioning the fact to their jury that no jurors were under oath the day Wood passed fliers out. That unrelated case, involving an Amish man and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, never went to trial.

Though Judge Janes said Wood's case is closed Friday, Kallman says they will file an appeal and emergency stay with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
"This case is far from over," Kallman said.
Thiede was unavailable for comment but told FOX 17 "justice was served."
Family members of Wood tell FOX 17 they are heartbroken and shocked that his case went this far. Wood is serving his first of eight consecutive weekends in jail, then six months' probation and fines for jury tampering.

It's hard to believe this is still in the courts. What is the matter with those people over there? I would expect this kind of thinking to be the norm in a place such as California but not here.

After 5 years, it's finally settled Michigan law.  The Michigan Supreme Court effectively ruled that the prospective jurors who received Mr. Wood's pamphlets were not "jurors", ergo no jury tampering could happen.

“In sum, an individual summoned for jury duty is not a juror when he or she simply shows up for jury duty,” according to the ruling. “Defendant here talked to individuals who had been summoned for jury duty but had yet to participate in any court proceedings that would make them a part of any case.”

It wasn't a unanimous ruling, two judges dissented, believing the definition encompassed both empaneled and prospective jurors.


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