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FIJA in the News & Jury Nullification & Volunteer | 05 Feb 2018

-Keith Wood Begins Serving Sentence As Appeal Moves Forward

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This past Friday, juror rights activist Keith Wood attended his latest court date, ostensibly for oral arguments in his appeal of his unjust prosecution and conviction for so-called “jury tampering”. As of yesterday, we understood that Keith had lost his appeal at the Circuit Court level. The stay of his sentence pending appeal was also lifted by the judge, and Keith was hauled off to jail to serve the first of the 8 weekends in jail that were part of his sentence.

Just this afternoon, I spoke with David Kallman, Keith’s defense attorney, for more information on the case and how FIJA can continue to help going forward. From my conversation with David, I understand that the judge in the case walked into the court with his opinion and order already typed up before he even heard oral arguments. That opinion and order are linked here (.pdf).

Despite verbiage in that document stating that the case is closed, David confirmed that the appeal is moving forward. It has so far progressed from the District Court level to the Circuit Court level. Having lost at the Circuit Court level, they are now moving on to Court of Appeals level, where they must first file for leave to appeal and to reinstate the stay of sentence, which would stop further enforcement of the sentence pending the continued appeal. David reports that they hope to have paperwork filed in the next couple of days. As yet it is unknown whether Keith will be serving another weekend of his sentence starting this Friday. Should this progress beyond the Court of Appeals, the next level would be the Michigan Supreme Court.

Regarding the details of the ruling, my understanding from David is that because two witnesses claimed that Keith had asked specifically if they were jurors, the judge decided that Keith essentially had no Constitutional rights after that.

From my own reading (note that I am not a lawyer) of the opinion and order, I found the following passage particularly telling:
“The statute relates solely to when a person attempts to “influence” a juror’s decision, not to “influence” them as to any topic whatsoever, let alone whether “juror rights” are prohibited or permitted. Appellant admitted that he chose to “educate” people that the record suggests not only were potential jurors, but also people whom he believed were jurors. It seems disingenuous for appellant to now argue that to “educate” someone is somehow not to “influence” someone.”

The judge’s order itself states that the person must be attempting to influence a juror’s decision, which Keith has denied doing. But that is not all the law requires. Specifically, MCL 750.120A1 reads:

Sec. 120a.

(1) A person who willfully attempts to influence the decision of a juror in any case by argument or persuasion, other than as part of the proceedings in open court in the trial of the case, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.

What the jurors in Keith’s trial were not allowed to hear, and what the judges so far involved in this case seem willfully to be glossing over is that Keith could not have influenced the decision of a juror “in any case” because NO JURORS WERE SEATED “IN ANY CASE” in the Mecosta County Courthouse on the day that Keith was sharing FIJA brochures. The trial judge’s wrongful denial of the defense to argue this essential element is part of the basis of the appeal, and the Circuit Court judge’s opinion and order seems not to acknowledge or address this key issue.

Further, FIJA maintains in our Amicus Curiae brief to the Circuit Court that, “even if Wood had handed his flyers to actual jurors currently hearing an actual case, his act of handing out such flyers could not have constituted “willfully attempt[ed] to influence the decision of a juror in any case by argument or persuasion…” as “The brochures contain no argument or persuasion dedicated to any actual case.”

FIJA brochures inform people of ALL of their options, including the right to vote Not Guilty even if the law has technically been broken. Once informed that they have that option, whether or not someone sees fit to exercise it in a case before them is solely their decision. It is our understanding that merely handing someone one of these pamphlets, which informs about jurors’ options but does not seek to persuade anyone to decide a certain way in any particular case, does not violate the statute.

From FIJA’s standpoint, what seems to be going on here is not even a thinly-veiled attempt to chill free speech, but rather a blatant, unveiled attempt to do so. If Keith’s sentence is not again stayed soon, it is conceivable that he will serve out his entire jail time even if he ultimately prevails in getting his wrongful conviction overturned. By punishing Keith Wood now for speech that is clearly supposed to be protected under the First Amendment without even allowing the appeal to run its course, Michigan court officials are sending a message to juror rights educators that they risk their liberty—and by extension their livelihoods and perhaps even their lives—if they dare to exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed rights in this manner. Beyond that, with this brazen effort locally to usurp free speech rights from juror rights educators, they are further encouraging government encroachment nationwide on Constitutional rights in this way as well.

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