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Sleeping Judge Not Enough for Mistrial

Posted on in Criminal Law
Sleeping Judge Not Enough for MistrialYour trial when facing criminal charges is a vitally important moment in you life. A conviction can result in a prison sentence and will remain on your record. So, you may be understandably offended if a judge or juror falls asleep during your trial. The action implies that your trial is not worth staying awake for. You may even seek a mistrial on the grounds that a judge or juror was not paying proper attention during the trial. However, Illinois courts have ruled that an isolated incident of a person napping during a trial is not enough reason to cast doubt on the trial’s outcome.

Recent Example

A defendant recently appealed his first-degree murder conviction, on the grounds that there should have been a mistrial after a judge apparently fell asleep during testimony. The trial transcript shows an exchange between both counsel and the judge following a video testimony. The judge did not respond to repeated requests to turn the lights back on until a clerk reportedly poked him to wake him up. The jury eventually found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The defense counsel filed a motion for a mistrial, claiming that the judge had fallen asleep multiple times during the trial. The judge denied both the motion and the allegation, stating that:

  • His eyes may have been closed during the video testimony, but he was still listening;
  • He never lost control of the courtroom; and
  • The allegation did not affect the evidence during the trial.

Varying Opinions

A majority of an Illinois appellate court upheld the judge's decision to deny a mistrial. The majority opinion stated that the judge falling asleep at certain points in the trial was harmless and did not make the outcome fundamentally unfair. The judge was not asked to make any evidentiary rulings, and the prosecution’s evidence was considered to be overwhelming. However, one justice dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that the judge falling asleep was unfair to the defendant. In her minority opinion, the justice stated that a judge must remain awake and aware during a jury trial because:

  • The judge is responsible for assuring that the defendant has a fair trial; and
  • The judge falling asleep suggests to the jury that the testimony is unimportant.

Receiving a Fair Trial

Criminal trials rely upon all parties involved treating the proceedings with respect. A DuPage County criminal defense attorney with Stephen A. Brundage, Attorney at Law, will make sure that you receive a fair trial. Schedule an appointment by calling 630-260-9647.


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