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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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