Keith Wood, a 39-year-old pastor, was handing out fliers at the Mecosta County courthouse recently when suddenly, he found himself under arrest.
According to Fox 17, Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic issued the arrest warrant for Woods for misdemeanor jury tampering and obstruction of justice, a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Jaklevic reportedly issued the warrant after he saw people reading the pamphlet Wood was passing out.
Titled, “Your Jury Rights: True or False?,” the flier from the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) explains the concept of jury nullification. This is when a jury acquits a defendant, regardless of the evidence, because they believe the law they are accused of breaking is either unjust or immoral.
Woods said the magistrate and other court personnel and deputy approached him outside the courthouse three times to tell him the judge wanted to talk with him inside the building. He said the third time, the deputy threatened to call the police to arrest him. Wood said he relented and followed them inside.
“She (courthouse personnel) wasn’t being rough but she was kind of corralling me and she was touching my jacket, and so I asked her again, I said, “Am I being detained?” And she goes, ‘No,’” described Wood.
“Judge Jaklevic came out of his chambers, he looked at me, he looked down the hall, I didn’t know who he was looking at, and then he looked back towards me and the deputy and he said, ‘Arrest him for jury tampering,'” said Wood.
The bond for his release was set at $150,000.
“When he (the Judge) told me the bond, again I was speechless,” said Wood. “$150,000 bond for handing out a piece of paper on a public sidewalk? Speechless.” He reportedly charged $15,000 to his credit card to secure his release.
The blogger Ken White at Popehat notes, “Even if he’s acquitted or the charges are dismissed he won’t get that money back. Freedom is expensive.”
Lansing-based lawyer David Kallman was equally stunned, not only at the size of the bond, but at the charges themselves. He said when Woods called his office, he didn’t think he was telling him the whole story.
“I thought that there had to be more here, but there’s not,” Kallman said.
“It’s just a blatant illegal improper use of government power to squelch a person’s Constitutional rights of free speech, that’s what this is,” Kallman continued.
“There has to be push-back, and judges and prosecutors and people need to know: you cannot squelch people’s free speech rights and get away with it.”
Not only is this unConstitutional, but it’s illogical.
Jacob Sullum at Reason explained that Michigan law defines “jury obscruction” as “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.”
Sullum reports that the statement of charges said Wood committed this “by knowingly and intentionally giving the members of a 77th District Court jury pool a pamphlet that encouraged the jurors to violate their oaths and directly contradicted the instructions the jurors would be given, thereby tainting the entire jury panel.”
MLive reports that 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.”
“The Judge directly ordered him to be arrested for jury tampering, for tampering with a jury that didn’t exist,” Kallman explained. “Now wrap your head around that.”
Jaklevic has recused himself from the case and is declining to comment on it.
Kallman hopes to have the charges thrown out when it goes for a preliminary exam, but he also thinks there is a federal court-level violation of Wood’s First Amendment rights.
All Wood says he wants is the case dismissed and his $15,000 back. The former pastor said he’s praying about whether to make this a federal case, but comments he made regarding jury nullification might give a clue as to his ultimate decision.
“If you don’t use your rights, you lose them,” he said.
What do you think of this? Should Wood take this to federal court, or was he rightfully arrested? Tell us in the comments.
By the way, here’s the flier he was handing out.