Michigan Supreme Overturns False "Jury Tampering" Conviction
This week, after nearly five years of injustice, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the false conviction of Keith Wood.
Just two days before Thanksgiving in 2015, Keith Wood was wrongfully arrested at the Mecosta County Courthouse in Michigan for sharing FIJA’s Your Jury Rights: True or False? brochure on the public sidewalk. Wood was falsely charged with felony obstruction of justice (MCL 750.505) and misdemeanor attempting to influence jurors (MCL 750.120A1), putting him at risk for up to six years incarceration.
Wood’s attorney successfully argued for the felony charge to be dismissed; however, the misdemeanor charge continued on to trial, despite the fact that no jury trial took place the day Wood was sharing these brochures and no jurors were even present that day.
The prosecutor argued that everyone who was summoned for jury duty was a juror who could supposedly be "tampered" with. Despite neither Keith nor FIJA's brochures mentioning any case in progress, the prosecutor further argued that because Keith had attended court proceedings related to a trial that was settled by plea bargain on the day he was sharing FIJA brochures, Keith must have been attempting to influence the outcome of that case.
This led to two ongoing points of contention that were argued repeatedly at every level of appeal:
- who is included in the definition of a 'juror' under MCL 750.120A1, and
- whether Keith's general educational outreach on the day in question is protected under the First Amendment.
Michigan Supreme Court Ruling
In its 5-2 ruling this week, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed only the first issue. It found that:
"Individuals who are merely summoned for jury duty and have not yet participated in a case are not jurors for purposes of MCL 750.120a(1). Therefore, defendant did not attempt to influence the decision of any “juror” as that term is used in MCL 750.120a(1)."
The Constitutional issues that were the focus of amicus briefs by the Fully Informed Jury Association, the Cato Institute, and the ACLU of Michigan were not addressed by the Court. We are encouraged, however, that the Court in footnote 1 of the opinion stated that:
"Jury nullification has “solid historical credentials,” the most famous case in American history being that of John Peter Zenger, who was charged, during the colonial period, by the British with criminal sedition. 6 LaFave et al, Criminal Procedure (4th ed), § 22.1(g), p 29. He was ultimately acquitted by the jury even though he had violated the law. Id. at 30. Under jury nullification, “a jury in a criminal case has the power to acquit even when its findings as to the facts, if literally applied to the law as stated by the judge, would have resulted in a conviction.” Id. at 29."
A System Primed for Injustice
It's worth reflecting on how the legal system—I will not call it a justice system—was primed for injustice in this case. Keith was falsely charged with two crimes, one of which was dismissed before trial and the other of which went to trial. He repeatedly asked the courts to decide whether or not that charge was even valid before it went to trial. Yet all of the higher courts denied that request and the charge was tried—notably, in a court where the judge explicitly refused to let jurors consider the very question that the Michigan Supreme Court just decided. Instead, Keith's jurors were sent off to deliberate the charge based on an inaccurate definition.
Unsurprisingly, Keith was convicted by the jury and sentenced by the judge to 8 weekends in jail (among other penalties). Judge Kimberly Booher was so determined to make him pay for his insolence that she ordered he be taken IMMEDIATELY from court after sentencing directly to jail to start serving that time.
Of the 8 weekends he was sentenced to, he served 3 of them in jail before an emergency stay of his sentence could be secured to prevent him from serving all his time before it could even be determined if he had done anything wrong. It took nearly 3 years to get the conviction overturned. Before that happened, Keith served nearly 40% of his sentenced incarceration for what we are now told by the Michigan Supreme Court was not a crime.
And the prosecution fought at every level to put him in jail rather than stay the sentence until the appeals process was complete. They wanted him punished one way or another. And, in part, they got their way. Keith served nearly 40% of his wrongful jail sentence before it was finally stayed pending the appeal.
If any of us kidnapped someone, we'd go to jail. If any of us falsely imprisoned someone, we'd go to jail. But not the prosecutor. Not the judge. They get paid out of taxpayers' pocketbooks for their crimes.
FIJA Thanks Those Who Made This Possible
FIJA thanks Keith for his courage and persistence through this long process that began nearly five years ago, though Keith credits his role in this fight to a higher power. "Thank you for your kind words. Though, my conviction and dedication to the truth are unwavering as I've been taught by my Lord, Jesus Christ. I don't take any of the credit - I just did everything in my power to Stand. When I was weak God gave me strength to continue!" Keith says. He further noted that, "I believe we all need to make up our minds to do what's right no matter the consequences. I pray more rise up and stand up for truth and justice!"
We also are so grateful to a number of attorneys whose efforts made it possible for FIJA to support Keith with an amicus brief at every step of his appeal, beginning in the circuit court. This would not have been possible without the volunteer efforts of Roger Roots, Nicholas Somberg, Eric Misterovich, John DiGiacomo, and Marc Randazza. We are also grateful to the Cato Institute and the Michigan ACLU who also filed amicus briefs in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court.
Research and Writing Credit: Kirsten C. Tynan
Michigan Hall of Justice by Grosscha - Own Work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11229111
Photo of Keith Wood and wife used with permission from Keith Wood