Massachusetts’ Highest Court Grants New Trial Due to Sleeping Jurors

Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a person who has been accused of a crime has certain rights, including the right to a speedy and public trial. Depending upon the circumstances, the defendant may have the right to have his or her guilt or innocence determined by a jury at trial.

There are many procedures that must be followed during a jury trial, and any irregularity has the potential to trigger a new trial on the order of an appellate court. Of course, each case must be decided on its particular facts.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case decided by the state’s highest court, a man was convicted on multiple criminal charges following a jury trial. He sought a new trial on the ground that he had been denied his right to a trial by jury, averring that some of the jury members were asleep during his trial. The trial court judge denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Thereafter, he filed an application for further appellate review from the Supreme Judicial Court (the state’s supreme court).

Decision of the Court

The court reversed the defendant’s convictions. The court first noted that the intermediate tribunal had been divided in their opinion on the issue of whether the trial judge’s failure to conduct voir dire after the prosecutor reported that some of the jurors had fallen asleep was a reversible error. In deciding the issue in the affirmative, the court noted that, unless the trial court judge personally observes a sleeping juror, he or she must decide whether the information that he has been given by a third party is reliable. If the information is deemed reliable, the next step is to conduct a voir dire of the potentially inattentive juror to determine whether he or she remains capable of fulfilling his or her obligation to render a verdict based on all of the evidence.

Here, the prosecutor was a reliable source of information, reporting that two different jurors – at least one of whom eventually deliberated on the verdict – had been asleep, one during direct examination and another during cross-examination. The judge’s failure to intervene thus gave rise to a serious doubt that the defendant received the fair trial to which he was constitutionally entitled.

Talk to an Attorney

A lot is at stake in a criminal trial. Depending upon the charges, the defendant may lose his or her liberty, suffer significant financial penalties, and possibly suffer other consequences (such as losing the right to possess a firearm, if the conviction is for a felony). Therefore, it is important that the defendant be represented by an attorney who has his or her best interests at heart and has the time and skill to handle the case. To speak to an experienced Cape Cod felony defense attorney, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664.

Related Blog Posts:

Reckless/Negligent Homicide While Operating Under the Influence Conviction Affirmed by Massachusetts Appeals Court

United States Supreme Court Reviews Criminal Conviction by Massachusetts State Court When Courtroom Was Closed During Voir Dire

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