Thursday, September 1, 2016

Feeling Sleepy?

Isaiah Rideaux robbed a pool hall at gunpoint. A Texas jury convicted him of aggravated robbery. The jury assessed punishment at life imprisonment. Isaiah appealed, claiming (among other matters) that a juror slept through a portion of his trial.

After attorneys for the State of Texas asked to approach the judge during the trial, the following exchange occurred:

COURT: Sorry. Tony, would you please wake the juror up.

BAILIFF: There we go.

COURT: Are you having trouble staying awake, ma’am?

JUROR: Mm-mm.

COURT: Pardon me?

JUROR: Mm-mm.

COURT: Well, I want you to do the best we can. We are about to take a lunch break, and I want you to stay awake and attentive to the testimony that’s going on in the Courtroom, please; all right? You understand?

 JUROR: Yes sir.

 COURT: All right, all right. You may proceed, Counsel.

When the court took a lunch break, Isaiah’s lawyers demanded a mistrial, claiming “I don’t know how long she was sleeping, but apparently she was obviously not paying attention.”

The trial court denied Isaiah’s request. So after the jury’s verdict was rendered, Isaiah appealed.

The Appellate Court reviewed the trial transcripts and concluded that the trial judge asked the bailiff to wake up a juror, the judge admonished the juror and the juror responded that she understood. Then it was lunch time.

The trial record did not reveal how much testimony the juror missed, if any.

The Appellate Court found a Texas appellate decision from 2014 holding that a trial court has “considerable discretion in deciding how to handle a sleeping juror.” However, the Appellate Court also noted that a juror who had “slept continuously through the trial” might present the need for a do-over.

Bottom line: Since Team Isaiah did not observe the juror sleeping very much, or if they did, they did not make the trial court aware of it, Isaiah’s appeal is denied and the verdict of the jury stands.

See Isaiah Rideaux v. The State of Texas; Cause No. 14-15-00317-CR; Tex. App. 14th Dist.; June 28, 2016:  

Lessons learned:

1.      Yes this is a criminal law case, not directly related to real estate. But there’s something important going on here.

2.      Evidently it’s Ok, at least somewhat Ok, for jurors to sleep through portions of a trial. Did you know that? I did not. But I assume if it’s Ok for jurors to sleep through a criminal trial where the result might be imprisonment, it’s even more Ok for jurors to doze through a civil trial where the parties are arguing about money.
3.      When you are a litigant, help your attorney. S/he may be tunnel focused on impeaching a witness, offering evidence or defending objections. The term situational awareness applies to Courtrooms too.

                                                                                    Stuart A. Lautin, Esq.


Reprinted with the permission of North Texas Commercial Association of REALTORS®, Inc. 

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