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Defendant not harmed by refusal to grant mistrial

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The Indiana Supreme Court found no harm was done when an uncooperative defendant’s mouth was covered by a bailiff in order to quiet the man, so the trial court correctly denied the defendant’s motion for a mistrial.

Kenneth Dwayne Vaughn was on trial for robbery, theft and resisting law enforcement before Lake Superior Judge Thomas Stefaniak. Before his trial began, he had an uncooperative relationship with his court appointed attorney, vacillating back and forth between having an attorney and proceeding pro se. Vaughn disagreed with his attorney’s decision to not call a certain witness to testify.

When Vaughn took the stand, he answered his attorney’s first question by complaining to the jury about his counsel’s trial strategy. Stefaniak told Vaughn to stop talking four times, but Vaughn kept speaking. Stefaniak then ordered the bailiff, who was not in the room when Vaughn began testifying, to put his hand over Vaughn’s mouth to quiet him. The jury was also instructed to leave the room during this incident.

Vaughn eventually agreed to answer his attorney’s questions before the jury. Only after Vaughn finished speaking did his attorney move for a mistrial, which Stefaniak refused to grant.

The justices had to decide whether Vaughn suffered actual harm from the judge’s order that the bailiff cover his mouth. A defendant has the right to appear before a jury without physical restraints – Vaughn was briefly restrained by the bailiff. The Supreme Court found there was no actual harm because the incident was so brief, and the jury was quickly removed. The justices also pointed to the fact Vaughn’s attorney didn’t immediately seek a mistrial.

Hindsight is 20/20, Justice Steven David wrote, so it may have been better practice for the judge to warn Vaughn that if he kept talking he would not be allowed to speak in the future. David also suggested that security should have been in the room, particularly because Vaughn had been uncooperative in the past.

The high court also agreed with the trial judge and Court of Appeals Judge Ezra Friedlander that it appeared Vaughn was trying to have a mistrial declared. Vaughn said in one of his pro se motions that he was familiar with trial procedures from having represented himself in 2006. He said he read about trial procedure while in prison.

“It is clear to us he knew his way around the criminal justice system and had the knowledge to attempt to create his own mistrial,” David wrote.

 

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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