by Claire Bernish, Activist Post: A former pastor from Michigan discovered the hard way that informing people of their rights under the law as jurors doesn’t sit well with the U.S. government when a judge sentenced him Friday to eight weekends in jail, six months of probation, and fines — all for passing out pamphlets discussing jury nullification.
Keith Wood contends passing out the information is well within his constitutional rights to inform potential and selected jurors that, enshrined in the Bill of Rights lies the potent ability to find a defendant not guilty if the law in question is unjust, flawed, or otherwise untenable — even if the accused indeed technically violated.
Jury nullification thus arguably acts as citizens’ access to checks and balances: When legislators craft worthless, harmful, inequitable, or just plain ‘bad’ laws, jurors can, in essence, refuse to enforce any punitive measures — refusing to find a person guilty of breaking a law that never should have been inked into the books.
This tool shines most prominently when used consistently to thwart oppressive policy. Illustrative of this principle is continued federal prohibition of cannabis and transformed public sentiment, as anti-marijuana propaganda falls apart at its politicized roots for the incarceration nightmare it created — among many others. Jurors faced with a choice in guilt of sending a nonviolent drug offender to prison might instead find the concept of incarcerating this petty ‘criminal’ who had done no harm to another unethical and ill-conceived — and choose instead a finding of not guilty to compensate for the unjust law.
But most judges refuse to or have strict rules against informing jurors about the little-known nullification right; so, Wood’s education activism, handing out pamphlets from the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), entitled “Your Jury Rights: True or False?” in front of the court in Big Rapids, led to a verdict of guilty for attempting to influence a jury in Mecosta County.
— John Hogan (@JohnHoganWZZM) June 1, 2017
Initially, Wood had been charged with a felony — which was dropped last March — for obstructing justice, and a misdemeanor jury tampering, carrying potential sentences of five years and one year, respectively; but prosecutors ultimately sought a sentence of 45 consecutive days with fines.
District Judge Kimberly Booher concurred the father of eight, husband, and sole family breadwinner should serve time, but felt the requested sentence too harsh in light of the circumstances and for his lack of prior offenses, ruling instead he will spend eight consecutive weekends in jail and work 120 hours of community service — suspended — provided he completes six months of probation without issue.
But the judge wasted no time having Wood begin his sentence, stating, after delivering the verdict,
“He’s going straight to jail today.”