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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. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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