State Supreme Court throws out jury tampering conviction

Ed White
Associated Press

Detroit – Who is a juror?

Not someone who is simply told to report for jury duty, the Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday as it overturned the jury tampering conviction of a man in western Michigan.

Keith Wood was distributing pamphlets in 2015 outside the Mecosta County courthouse in Big Rapids. He told two women they could choose their conscience over the law if they were picked to serve on a jury.

Wood was charged with jury tampering, under a 1955 law, and convicted of a misdemeanor. He appealed.

“We hold that the individuals here who were merely summoned for jury duty and had not yet participated in a case were not jurors,” Justice Elizabeth Clement said in a 5-2 opinion, noting they had not been “sworn in for any official proceedings.”

Indeed, they never became jurors. The only case that day at District Court, a dispute over wetlands, ended with a plea deal and didn’t go to trial.

“I look forward to moving on with my life without a criminal record for my exercise of free speech,” said Wood, who had served three weekends of an eight-weekend jail sentence before it was suspended during his appeal.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice David Viviano said the majority’s opinion was an “absurd result,” quoting from a 2015 court decision in a tampering case in Maine. He said his fellow justices should have done more research.

“In sum, almost all contemporaneous lay and legal dictionaries provide that both prospective and empaneled jurors are included in the definition of the term ‘juror,’” said Viviano, a former Macomb County trial judge.

He was joined by Justice Stephen Markman.

Attorney David Kallman also made a free speech argument on behalf of Wood, but the court decided the case on other grounds.