Jury nullification refers to the controversial decision of a jury to acquit a criminal defendant even when the evidence supports a conviction, typically when the jury believes that the law itself is unjust or being applied unjustly. Judges themselves do not inform juries about this power, and attorneys are not permitted to discuss it in the courtroom. However, there is nothing illegal about individual citizens and advocacy groups informing the general public about jury nullification through websites, pamphlets, and other forms of communication.
In 2015 Keith Wood stood on a public sidewalk near a courthouse in Big Rapids offering pamphlets about jury nullification to passersby. Based on this conduct he was arrested, tried, and convicted of jury tampering, a crime that is typically prosecuted when an advocate attempts to influence individual jurors in a particular case. Mr. Wood’s conviction was affirmed through multiple levels of appeal. But in 2019 the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to review the case. The ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that handing out informational pamphlets on a public sidewalk is entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection, and the state had alternative ways to prevent jury tampering that are less restrictive of Mr. Wood’s First Amendment rights.
In July 2020 the Michigan Supreme Court overturned Mr. Wood’s conviction on statutory grounds.
(People v. Wood; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorney Gautam Hans of U-M Law School.)