If you read the news with any regularity, then you’re already familiar with the jury tampering case that made headlines in 2015. Kevin Woods, a former pastor and current activist in Mecosta County, was arrested for handing out pamphlets to a pool of possible jurors before a trial. That pamphlet told them about their “jury nullification” rights. The case was highly controversial because it dealt with the issue of one’s constitutional rights to free speech, and a jury’s right to vote their conscience. Need a little refresher? Here are the facts:
Woods wanted to make sure that the jury knew their rights
In 2015, Woods heard about a case taking place in his county involving an Amish farmer who had drained wetlands on his farm. Woods sympathized with the farmer, and although the case never went to trial (Mr Yoder took a plea agreement with the prosecutor), he decided it was important that the potential jurors involved be fully informed of their rights. Specifically, their right to vote their conscience, which means anyone selected to sit on a jury may vote according to what they personally believe to be right and true, despite what the law says. Woods wanted to make sure that the jury who would be voting in Mr Yoder’s case knew they didn’t have to be bound by what the law said a farmer had to do on his land. They were within their rights to vote with their hearts and ignore the instructions read to them by the trial judge.
He got into a lot of trouble for his attempts to inform the jury!
On the day that jury selection for the trial was scheduled to begin, Woods arrived at the Mecosta County Courthouse in Big Rapids, MI. He brought along printed pamphlets full of information about the rights of a juror. He handed them out to anyone who would take one, but Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic grew annoyed and had Woods arrested. He was charged with Jury Tampering – a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $1,000, and Obstruction of Justice, which is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The charges were initially dismissed and then later brought again by the Mecosta County prosecutor. In the end he was convicted on both counts.
The case has been an ongoing battleground ever since!
Woods fought the charges, claiming his first amendment rights to free speech were being violated. After his conviction, the case ended up before the Michigan Court of Appeals, where the three presiding judges couldn’t agree. Appellate Court Judges Christopher Murray and Thomas Cameron said that the state has a compelling interest in protecting the sanctity of the jury and ruled against Woods. Judge William Murphy, however, said he would have overturned Woods’ conviction. When all was said and done, the Michigan Supreme Court encouraged the ACLU of Michigan, the Fully Informed Jury Association, and the Cato Institute (all of whom had raised concerns about Wood’s First Amendment rights) to file briefs on his behalf. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case.
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