Sunday, December 1, 2019

Kansas judge falls asleep during trial--no big deal

The Kansas Supreme Court unanimously concluded recently that a man’s firearms convictions shouldn’t be automatically reversed because the district court judge fell asleep in front of the jury during proceedings on the first day of the trial, reported the Hutchinson News.
The state’s highest court rejected a legal interpretation by the Kansas Court of Appeals prompting an order in 2017 that Daquantrius Johnson be granted retrial because Judge Benjamin Burgess confessed to napping at the bench. Johnson gained national attention in a separate case when convicted of stealing the wedding ring off an unconscious woman’s finger as she lay dying in a Taco Bell drive-thru.
Justice Caleb Stegall, who wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion in the sleepy-judge case, said there was no precedent in Kansas to justify a finding of structural error simply because a judge catnapped during a trial. The issue is significant because structural errors are defects in the mechanism of a trial so egregious as to warrant immediate reversal.
Burgess admitted to the jury that he fell asleep, but he defended himself by noting no objections from attorneys were raised while he was temporarily out of commission. He assured the jury he wasn’t the first judge to be overcome by heavy eyelids.
“I acknowledge myself, ladies and gentlemen, that I did nod off,” Burgess said.
The Supreme Court concluded the trial judge’s slumber amounted to regrettable misconduct and noted Johnson’s lawyer declined to request a mistrial when given the opportunity. The justices rejected the Court of Appeals’ position that a sleeping judge was the legal equivalent to a judge who had physically left the bench. By doing so, the justices blocked the lower court’s attempt to broaden the definition of structural error.
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