When judge falls asleep, the court system falls apart
There is no place in a trial for a sleeping judge.
A divided Kansas Court of Appeals recently overturned a man’s firearms convictions in Sedgwick County because the judge in the case fell asleep.
Daquantrius Johnson was convicted by a jury of criminal possession of a firearm, aggravated assault and criminal discharge of a firearm.
Appeals Court Judge Stephen Hill said that when the judge in the case fell asleep the court system fell apart.
Judge Hill was correct.
“This error affected the framework of the entire trial,’’ Judge Smith said. “Our citizens expect a fully awake trial judge presiding over a criminal trial.’’
“How can a sleeping judge supervise anything other than his or her dream? Is the trial really a trial - in the presence of a sleeping judge?’’ Judge Hill added.
It was on the second day of Johnson’s trial that a juror reported to the bailiff that Sedgwick County District Court Judge Benjamin Burgess had been sleeping during the trial proceedings and questioned whether Johnson’s right to a fair trial had been compromised.
The bailiff told the judge what the juror had said and on the third day of the trial, Judge Burgess acknowledged that he had nodded off during the trial on the previous day.
The judge also told the jurors that they were the triers of the case and that he, as judge, only decided what evidence could be heard in the case.
“I don’t believe during the course of the trial yesterday afternoon that there were any objections raised that I had to make rulings on that would have been affected by my nodding off,’’ the judge said to the jury.
The jury ultimately convicted Johnson on the charges and sentenced him to 43 months in prison (nearly four years), plus a year of probation and lifetime registration.
Two of the three Court of Appeals judges ruled that a sleeping judge was a structural error so egregious that immediate reversal of all convictions was necessary.
As a result of the Court of Appeals ruling, Johnson’s convictions were vacated and his case was returned to Sedgwick County for a new trial.
It was not reported whether the State of Kansas will reimburse Johnson for the legal fees associated with his first trial, but it should. Johnson should not be required to pay for legal defense associated with the first trial that the state erred in.
Judges found to be asleep at the bench should be placed on probation the first time and removed from office the second. Judge Burgess was re-elected in 2014 and will be up for re-election again in 2018.