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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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