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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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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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