People v. Wood

Decision Date11 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. 342424,342424
Citation928 N.W.2d 267,326 Mich.App. 561
Parties PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Keith Eric WOOD, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, and Brian E. Thiede, Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

Kallman Legal Group, PLLC (by David A. Kallman, Lansing, and Stephen P. Kallman) for defendant.

Amici Curiae:

G. S. Hans, Daniel S. Korobkin, Michael J. Steinberg, and Kary L. Moss, Detroit, for the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan.

Revision Legal, PLLC (by Eric Misterovich, St. Joseph, and John Di Giacomo, Portage) for the Fully Informed Jury Association.

Revision Legal, PLLC (by Eric Misterovich, St. Joseph) for the Cato Institute.

Before: Murray, C.J., and Murphy and Cameron, JJ.

Murray, C.J.Defendant was convicted of jury tampering, MCL 750.120a(1), a misdemeanor, for attempting to influence jurors when he stood in front of a courthouse and distributed pamphlets to those he knew to be potential jurors in a case set for trial that day. The circuit court affirmed his conviction, rejecting defendant’s statutory and First Amendment arguments. We granted leave to appeal,1 and we now affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter arose out of defendant’s interest in a criminal case involving Andrew Yoder, who had been charged with "a [Department of Environmental Quality] violation" for "illegally draining wetlands." After hearing of the case, defendant decided to attend the pretrial hearing on November 4, 2015, because despite not actually knowing Yoder, the case "piqu[ed] [his] interest." At the pretrial hearing, the court scheduled Yoder’s trial for November 24, 2015.

Defendant returned to the courthouse on the day set for trial and stood outside the front entrance to pass out pamphlets entitled, "Your Jury Rights: True or False?" that he had obtained from the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) website. The pamphlet explains that jurors may vote according to their conscience. It further advises readers to be aware "when it’s your turn to serve" that "[y]ou may, and should, vote your conscience," that "[y]ou cannot be forced to obey a ‘juror’s oath,’ " and that "[y]ou have the right to ‘hang’ the jury with your vote if you cannot agree with other jurors!"

Although defendant handed or attempted to hand the pamphlet to a number of people that day, his charge for jury tampering resulted from his distribution of the pamphlet to Jennifer Johnson and Theresa DeVries, two people summoned to the court for jury selection. Johnson testified that she arrived at the courthouse unsure of where to go and that she approached defendant, thinking he was out front to "direct traffic."

Although she could not remember who broached the subject, it was established between them that she was there for jury duty. Defendant proceeded to hand her a pamphlet "and sort of pointed at the door." DeVries, on the other hand, testified that as she approached the courthouse, defendant specifically asked if she was there for jury selection. When she confirmed that she was, he handed her a pamphlet and said, " ‘Do you know what your rights are for being a jury [sic] on jury duty?’ "

Defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, MCL 750.505, and jury tampering. Yoder’s case, however, never went to trial because the parties reached a plea agreement.

Before trial in his own case, defendant moved the district court to dismiss both charges. The district court granted the motion with respect to obstruction of justice but declined to dismiss the jury-tampering charge. In so doing, the court rejected defendant’s argument that the charge should be dismissed because the term "juror," as used in MCL 750.120a(1), does not encompass individuals like Thompson and DeVries who were summoned for jury duty, but who were never actually selected or sworn, and took defendant’s First Amendment argument under advisement. The circuit court affirmed the district court’s decision, and defendant was denied leave to appeal by this Court, People v. Wood , unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered December 2, 2016 (Docket No. 334410), as well as by the Michigan Supreme Court, People v. Wood , 500 Mich. 963, 891 N.W.2d 495 (2017).

Defendant’s two-day jury trial was held in district court. When asked why he had decided to distribute the pamphlets, defendant testified that he

learned a really interesting fact that 95 percent of all criminal cases in the United States, they are pled out before they go to trial. And so there was a—there was a very high likelihood that the Yoder case was not going to go to trial, but then I also believed that there were going to be a lot of people around the courthouse and it was going to give me a really good opportunity to educate as many people to hand out the pamphlets and get this information to their hands.

He further stated that he did not know "who was summoned as a potential juror" and that he just handed the pamphlet "[t]o anybody that would receive one."

After the prosecution rested, defendant renewed his motion to dismiss on First Amendment grounds, but the district court rejected the argument, reasoning that defendant "was targeting jurors that were coming in that day" and that there was "a compelling interest in making sure for both the Prosecutor and the defense that there is a fair and impartial jury being chosen and that it is also very clear to me that [defendant] was very interested in that case and knew that the case was set for trial that day." Further, the court found it to be irrelevant that a trial never occurred in Yoder’s case.

At the close of trial, the district court provided the following instructions to the jury regarding the elements of jury tampering:

First, that Jennifer Johnson and/or Theresa DeVries was a juror/were jurors in the case of People v. Yoder .
Second, that the defendant willfully attempted to influence that juror by the use of argument or persuasion.
Third, that the defendant’s conduct took place outside of proceedings in open court in the trial of the case.
A person acts willfully when he or she acts knowingly and purposefully.
The word "juror" includes a person who has been summoned to appear in court to decide the facts in a specific trial.
An "argument or persuasion" can be oral or written.

Defendant was ultimately convicted and then sentenced on July 21, 2017.

On appeal in the circuit court, defendant argued that: (1) "the State" violated his First Amendment rights when he was "arrested and charged because of the content his pamphlet contained," and such conduct would fail a strict-scrutiny analysis, (2) he was denied his right to due process because MCL 750.120a(1) is unconstitutionally vague, (3) the district court erred by defining the term "juror" to include persons summoned for jury duty, and (4) even if the district court’s interpretation was correct, he should not have been convicted under MCL 750.120a(1) because Yoder’s case never proceeded to trial.

The circuit court issued its opinion and order on February 2, 2018, affirming defendant’s conviction. In so doing, the court first rejected defendant’s First Amendment argument, reasoning that the content of the pamphlet was not at issue because "[t]he statute relates solely to when a person attempts to ‘influence’ a juror’s decision, not to ‘influence’ them as to any topic whatsoever," and defendant willfully attempted to influence people he believed to be jurors. Secondly, the court concluded that because Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed.) defines "juror" to include those selected for jury duty, the juror-tampering statute applied. And lastly, the court ruled that no evidence existed to support defendant’s argument that he was denied a fair trial.

II. DID DEFENDANT TAMPER WITH A "JUROR?"

Defendant first argues that both trial courts erroneously defined "juror," as used in MCL 750.120a(1), to include those summoned for jury duty. Specifically, he asserts that he could not have tampered with "a juror in any case" under MCL 750.120a(1), because the term "juror" only encompasses those selected and sworn for jury duty, and no jurors were ever selected in Yoder’s case.

Statutory interpretation is a question of law reviewed de novo. PNC Nat'l Bank Ass'n v. Dep't of Treasury , 285 Mich. App. 504, 505, 778 N.W.2d 282 (2009). When interpreting statutory provisions, the overriding goal is to discern and give effect to the Legislature’s intent. People v. Flick , 487 Mich. 1, 10, 790 N.W.2d 295 (2010). The words in the statute are, of course, the best evidence of what was intended by the Legislature in passing the statute. People v. Smith , 496 Mich. 133, 138, 852 N.W.2d 127 (2014) ("The words of a statute are the most reliable indicator of the Legislature’s intent and should be interpreted according to their ordinary meaning and the context within which they are used in the statute."). "If the statute is unambiguous on its face, the Legislature will be presumed to have intended the meaning expressed, and judicial construction is neither required nor permissible." People v. Likine , 492 Mich. 367, 387, 823 N.W.2d 50 (2012).

MCL 750.120a(1) provides:

A person who willfully attempts to influence the decision of a juror in any case by argument or persuasion, other than as part of the proceedings in open court in the trial of the case, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.

The term "juror" is not defined in the statute itself or in the Michigan Penal Code, MCL 750.1 et seq . As a result, we may consult a lay dictionary to determine the plain and ordinary meaning of "juror" if the term lacks "a unique legal meaning," People v. Thompson , 477 Mich. 146, 151-152, 730 N.W.2d 708 (2007), or a legal dictionary if the word is a legal term of art, People v. Jones , 467 Mich....

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3 cases
  • People v. Wood
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • July 28, 2020
    ...MCL 750.120a(1) included those summoned for jury duty, "even if never selected [or] sworn to serve on a jury." People v. Wood , 326 Mich. App. 561, 571, 928 N.W.2d 267 (2018). The majority also denied defendant's constitutional claims. The dissent, however, would have held that there is no ......
  • People v. Rogers
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • January 7, 2020
    ...from the era of the original legislation in construing the meaning of an undefined statutory term). See also People v. Wood , 326 Mich. App. 561, 571, 928 N.W.2d 267 (2018) ("The Michigan Supreme Court has recognized the importance of defining a statutory term according to its original mean......
  • People v. Davis
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • April 2, 2020
    ...tampered with or tainted through improper contact initiated by an individual with close ties to the victim. See People v. Wood , 326 Mich. App. 561, 578, 928 N.W.2d 267 (2018) ("[W]hen it comes to the prevention of jury tampering, it has long been held that states may punish or regulate spe......

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