Handing out pamphlets on jury nullification leads to arrest of Mecosta man

Keith Wood

Keith Wood

BIG RAPIDS  — A Mecosta man is facing charges of obstruction and attempting to influence jurors for passing out pamphlets. In turn, he is questioning whether his First Amendment rights were violated.

Keith Wood, 39, was arrested on Nov. 24 after handing out pamphlets on the sidewalk outside the Mecosta County courthouse.

The pamphlets reportedly contained information about jury nullification, a concept which allows juries to acquit criminal defendants regardless of evidence because of the belief the law is unjust or immoral. This also is referred to as jurors “voting their conscience.”

Wood was charged with one count of obstruction of justice,  a five-year felony with up to $10,000 in fines, and one count of attempting to influence jurors, a one-year misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000.

According to court documents, the obstruction charge alleges “Wood knowingly and intentionally gave members of a 77th District Court jury pool a pamphlet that encouraged jurors to violate their oaths and directly contradicted the instructions jurors would be given, thereby tainting an entire jury panel.”

The day Wood was arrested, a trial involving an Amish man charged with wetland violations was scheduled to begin with jury selection in Mecosta County’s 77th District Court. While the defendant ultimately reached a plea agreement and a trial did not move forward, Judge Peter Jaklevic was alerted about Wood passing out the jury nullification information to people outside, including potential jurors.

After calling Wood into the courthouse, Jaklevic had Wood arrested on the charges. His bond was set at $150,000 cash, of which he posted 10 percent and was released from police custody.

Wood’s attorney, David Kallman, calls the charges “outrageous” and says his client’s First Amendment rights were breached.

“I understand the judge not liking what Mr. Wood was handing out, but that’s part of freedom of speech,” Kallman said. “The answer to that was not jail a person and set a ridiculous $150,000 bond. The bond itself was excessive and unconstitutional.”

The charge of jury tampering is uncalled for because there was not even a jury to tamper with, Kallman said.

In his 32 years as an attorney, Kallman said he has not seen anything like this and his astonishment is shared by others.

“We are receiving support from all over the country,” he said. “People are calling and saying they cannot believe this is happening. This should not happen in our country.”

A pre-trial hearing for Wood’s case took place Tuesday, with Wood deciding not to take a plea agreement. A preliminary hearing for Wood is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, in Mecosta County’s 77th District Court. It is not clear at this time if Jaklevic will have a role or be excused from the proceedings.

Kallman intends to vigorously fight this case and he and Wood are looking into possible civil remedies, he said.

“The answer to speech is always more speech,” Kallman said. “The answer is not to arrest people to shut them up. We intend to prove that point. Whether it’s a criminal trial or in some other way, that point will be brought home.”

As the case is ongoing, both Jaklevic’s office and the Mecosta County Prosecutor’s Office could not comment at this time.

“In order to protect a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial, the prosecutor’s right to speak freely is curtailed. The most that any representative of this office would be able to share is that which is contained in public record. It appears that all of that information has already been acquired by the media. Thank you for your understanding and respecting our ethical duties,” the prosecutor’s office said via press release. “The charges against this individual are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.”

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Posted by Emily Grove

Emily is the Pioneer and Herald Review crime and court reporter, covering crime in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. She can be reached by e-mail at emily@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8362.

One comment on “Handing out pamphlets on jury nullification leads to arrest of Mecosta man

  1. avatarBpach1

    This seems pretty excessive for merely handing out pamphlets. Is there more to the story behind the arrest? Did the Arrest Warrant show any extenuating circumstances that would cause the bail to be set so high?

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