Mecosta resident stands on First Amendment against felony charge

A Mecosta resident, arrested for handing out fliers detailing juries’ rights to “vote their conscience” is fighting the charges against him by standing on the First Amendement.

Keith Wood, 39, was in front of the Mecosta County courthouse handing out pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association informing passersby about jury nullification rights. These rights state that a juror can acquit a defendant despite damning evidence if the juror thinks the law is wrongfully applied or immoral.

Deputies working at the Mecosta County courthouse approached Wood and told him to come inside or he’d be arrested. Deputies were ordered to place Wood under arrest by Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic after Wood was summoned inside by Jaklevic and refused.

Wood rejected a plea bargain. David Kallman, Wood’s attorney, said Wood was well within his First Amendment rights to be in a public space handing out information.

“Mr. Wood was there because he feels strongly about the issue and wanted to get information out to people,” said Kallman. “He had no idea who may or may not have been a prospective juror. He was handing the pamphlets out to anyone who was willing to take one.”

Wood was charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with a jury and held in Mecosta County Jail. Jaklevic arraigned Wood and set his bond at $150,000. Wood posted 10 percent of his bail later that day to leave, charging the $15,000 to his credit card.

“Imposing a bond of $150,000 for handing out a piece of paper on a public sidewalk, I mean it’s so blatantly unconstitutional, excessive and unreasonable that I’m laughing. It’s laughable,” said Kallman.

Kallman also claims Wood was initially denied an attorney.

“It’s ridiculous to charge Mr. Wood with tampering with a jury when at the time, early in the morning when he was passing out these fliers, there was no jury. There was a prospective jury pool, but there were all kinds of people walking into courthouse,” said Kallman.

Obstruction of justice is a maximum five-year felony and could carry up to a $10,000 fine. Tampering with a jury is a misdemeanor with penalties of up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine or both.

“On a public sidewalk is where you have some of the highest protections for free speech,” said Kallman.

“You could have demonstrators advocating all sorts of things, even advocating on specific cases, and they have the right to stand out there and say what they want to say.”

Wood’s preliminary exam is set for Thursday, Dec. 10, with Judge Kimberly Booher after Jaklevic excused himself from the case last Tuesday. Wood and Kallman will petition to have the case thrown out at the hearing.