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People v. Vaughan – Michigan Supreme Court – Sixth Amendment Right to Public Trial

In an opinion filed Friday, July 9, 2012, the Michigan Supreme Court denied a criminal defendant’s appeal that his right to a public trial, a right afforded to all criminal defendants pursuant to the United States and Michigan Constitutions, was violated when a Wayne County Circuit Court judge ordered the public out of the courtroom during jury selection. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Young, reasoned that Vaughn had forfeited his right to a public trial, as he did not assert that right or object at the trial court level. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals, but disagreed with the reasoning, holding that while Vaughan forfeited his constitutionally protected right to a public trial, Vaughn was not automatically foreclosed from appellate review. The Supreme Court majority held that Vaughn was not entitled to a new trial because he was unable to demonstrate that his forfeited claim of error “seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

What does this mean for Michigan criminal defendants? The majority opinion makes it clear that a criminal defendant needs an effective advocate at the trial court level. It is essential that a criminal defendant is represented by a knowledgable and aggressive criminal defense lawyer who can ascertain whether his/her client’s rights are being affected. If a situation is presented that contradicts with those constitutionally protected rights, the criminal defense lawyer must place an objection on the record to preserve the issue for a possible appeal. If the attorney fails to do that, Vaughn is simply one more case of the hundreds that illustrate the point that failure to object at the trial court level may result in forfeiture of an otherwise constitutionally protected right.

A link to the full text of the opinion can be found here.

If you are charged with a crime in Michigan, contact Attorney Nick Leydorf for a free initial phone consultation by calling (517) 388-6800.

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Numerous Procedural Issues Discovered in Michigan State Police Crime Labs

July 6, 2012 1 comment

Following inspection of the Michigan State Police’s seven crime labs numerous procedural issues related to incomplete record keeping and improper storage of chemicals were discovered. The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division has until the end of July 2012 to fix more than 100 “corrective action requests.” The accredation of the Michigan State Police crime labs are at stake, as they have been told that they will receive no further extensions.

In light of these findings, Michigan criminal defense attorneys have been given reason to further question and challenge the labs’ findings.

You can read more from the Detroit News article here.

What You Tweet May Be Used Against You

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Following her arraignment on her most recent criminal charge, Lindsey Lohan took to Twitter in an attempt to clear her name. On February 10th, Lohan tweeted the following:

“Was on the phone with my sister&this movie Greenberg is on, i heard my voice which was odd- and ryhs ifans is watching Just My Luck in the movie- made me laugh.. i just want to be on set again, and left alone to just work! fyi- i would never steal, in case people are wondering. I was not raised to lie, cheat, or steal… also, what i wear to court shouldnt be front page news. it’s just absurd. god bless xox L”

The behavior of high-profile criminal defendants like Lohan provide a good example of how the power of social media can impact a criminal case. While Lohan’s statements are not an admission of guilt, when compared with her attorney’s statement to CNN that Lohan would be seeking a plea deal is confusing at best. As a criminal defense attorney, we must make our client’s aware of the risk that statements made on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be used against them in court and may potentially hinder their lawyer’s ability to effectively achieve their optimal outcome.  Let’s not be naive, just because judges and prosecutor’s should not let their perception of the criminal defendant affect their judgment, doesn’t mean that is what happens in the real world. On more than one occasion in my practice, plea negotiations have been hampered after the prosecutor assigned to my client’s case visited my client’s Facebook page and read what my client had to say about the victim or witnesses involved.

Should the Miranda Warnings be amended to include: “… anything you say or tweet may be used against you in a court of law…”? Obviously not.  However, as social networking continues to grow in popularity and affects how individuals communicate with one another, a good criminal defense attorney should advise their client that what they tweet or post online may be used against them.