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142627 - People v Vaughn (Joseph)

The People of the State of Michigan,
Thomas M. Chambers
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals
(Wayne – Callahan, J.)
Joseph Lashawn Vaughn,
Randy E. Davidson


​A defendant in a criminal proceeding has both a state and federal constitutional right to a public trial. US Const Am VI; Const 1963, art 1, § 20. The right includes the right to have the courtroom open to the public during jury voir dire. Presley v Georgia, 558 US ___; 130 S Ct 721; 175 L Ed 2d 675 (2010). During Joseph Vaughn’s criminal trial, the judge closed the courtroom to the public during voir dire and jury selection; Vaughn’s attorney did not object. The jury eventually convicted Vaughn of two counts of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, felon in possession of a firearm, and felony-firearm, second offense. Vaughn was sentenced to three and a half to 10 years for each assault conviction, two to five years for the felon in possession conviction, and five years for the felony-firearm conviction.

Vaughn appealed to the Court of Appeals, raising several issues, including his claim that the trial court erred when it excluded the public from his trial during jury voir dire. Vaughn argued that he has a constitutional right to a public jury that cannot be waived, and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial judge’s decision to close the courtroom during voir dire. But in a published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions. A defendant must assert his right to a public trial; the failure to timely assert the right forecloses later relief on appeal, the Court of Appeals said. Because Vaughn’s defense counsel failed to object, Vaughn is not entitled to relief, the appellate panel stated. Moreover, Vaughn had not shown that his attorney’s failure to object amounted to ineffective assistance; the attorney could have chosen not to object as a matter of trial strategy, the Court of Appeals said. “Reasonable trial counsel might conclude that the potential jurors would be more forthcoming in their responses when the courtroom is closed, that the proceedings will be less likely to be tainted by outside influences, or might simply find the procedure preferable because it will expedite the proceedings.” Vaughn appeals.