Illinois court: Sleeping judge not grounds for mistrial

By Ray Downs  |  Nov. 13, 2017 at 9:49 PM
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Nov. 13 (UPI) -- An Illinois appeals court ruled this month that a sleeping judge is not sufficient grounds for a retrial.

The court issued the ruling in the 2014 murder trial of Nicholas Sheley, who was tried -- and eventually convicted -- with Judge Jeffrey O'Connor presiding. Shelley's attorney argued that at one point during the trial, O'Connor fell asleep when lights were dimmed to show a video.

After Sheley was convicted, his defense team asked for a new trial on the grounds that the judge fell asleep. O'Connor denied the request, as well as allegations he nodded off -- saying his eyes might have been closed but he was still listening.

"If I was not looking at the video, that does not mean that I was not listening and hearing everything that was being said," O'Connor said.

The majority of the Illinois Appellate Court agreed.

"The test on that is whether the judge ever lost control of the courtroom in these proceedings, and the answer to that is absolutely not," the opinion stated.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Mary O'Brien said, "A judge cannot be actively present on the bench when he is asleep."

Sleeping judges are a fairly common occurrence, according to Indiana University Law School professor Charles Geyh, who says the impact depends on the case.

"It's never good, it's not a good idea, and it does raise ethical implications," Geyh said. "But the severity of the infraction can range from utterly trivial to pretty serious."

A 2016 study found that, on average, sleep-deprived judges dole out sentences 5 percent longer than well-rested judges.

Sheley is serving six life sentences for the Illinois deaths, two life sentences for others in Missouri and a 75-year sentence for armed criminal action.

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