BIG RAPIDS (FCP) -Back in November 2015, Keith Wood stood on a public sidewalk in front of a county courthouse in Michigan. Wood, a former pastor and businessman had been sharing information in a pamphlet he obtained from a federally recognized (501(c)(3)) non-profit educational organization. The pamphlet informed citizens of their legal authority and power as jurors. For this, a local magistrate, a county judge, and a local prosecutor orchestrated efforts to stop Wood, and he was arrested and charged with accused of obstruction of justice for handing out the fliers. This past Wednesday, Mecosta Circuit Judge Kimberly Booher granted a motion from Wood’s attorney, David Kallman, to drop the felony charge, but is allowing a misdemeanor jury tampering allegation to proceed to trial.
Wood admits he was giving people the flier “What rights do you have as a juror that the judge won’t tell you about?” on the sidewalk outside of the courthouse. Potential jurors entered the building reading the brochure. Wood was jailed for about 12 hours on a $150,000 bond. Booher, during the Wednesday hearing, ordered the money refunded while changing Wood’s status to a personal recognizance bond.
But, is it illegal to inform potential jurors of their rights and power? The local prosecutor has argued that the literature misrepresented the legal system and could lead to a lawless society. Jurors could allegedly read the material and decide to set bombers and killers free if they believed in the motivation behind the crime, Thiede has argued. Wood’s attorneys have countered that Mr. Wood’s activities are free speech – and that the government has overstepped and possibly committed criminal violations of the law in bringing charges against Mr. Wood.
“I’m convinced the rest of the case will be dismissed based on First Amendment rights,” Kallman said Wednesday. In fact, Kallman has written two very good legal memorandums on the issue (Motion to Dismiss, and Reply), and the reader is highly encouraged to read both of them as part of an effort to increase civic literacy on the subject.
In the briefs, Wood argues that the local Magistrate (Thomas Lyons) went outside to investigate and speak with Mr. Wood who was sharing the information. Magistrate Lyons confronted Mr. Wood and instructed him that he should not share the information pamphlet on a public sidewalk. After being escorted into the courthouse (actually coerced by a threat of arrest) Mr. Wood was in fact arrested. While prosecutors have argued that Mr. Wood’s “speech” is a threat to free society, Kallman has pointed out that all three main points of the pamphlet are legally accurate:
- Jurors may and should vote their conscience;
- Jurors cannot be forced to obey a “juror’s oath;”
- Jurors have the right to “hang” the jury with their individual vote if they cannot agree with other jurors.
In fact, Kallman cited Michigan Criminal Jury Instructions – to prove this very point. Further, the Michigan Court of Appeals explained in People v. St. Cyr, 129 Mich. App. 471 (1983):
Although the court recognized that a jury in a criminal case does have unreviewable and irreversible power to acquit in disregard of the instructions given by the trial judge, the court declined to hold that the jury should be instructed concerning that power…(emphasis added).
The United States Supreme Court has held, the Sixth Amendment was designed to empower citizens serving on a jury to be the ultimate determiners of guilt or innocence:
A right to jury trial is granted to criminal defendants in order to prevent oppression by the Government. Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and experience that it was necessary to protect against unfounded criminal charges brought to eliminate enemies and against judges too responsive to the voice of higher authority. The framers of the constitutions strove to create an independent judiciary but insisted upon further protection against arbitrary action. Providing the accused with the right to be tried by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or over zealous prosecutor and against the complaint, biased, or eccentric judge….Fear of unchecked power, so typical of our State and Federal Governments in other respects found expression in the criminal law in this insistence upon community participation in the determination of guilt or innocence.
Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 155-156 (1968) (emphasis added). It is perfectly legal to remind citizens of this principle.
While it is indeed good news that Judge Kimberly Booher dismissed the felony charge against Wood, the pending trial is still problematic and concerned citizens should learn and if inclined, reach out to Wood in support. The Free Capitalist Project also commends Mr. Kallman for his active, competent and diligent litigation in defense of liberty.