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Sleeping on the Job – What if Your Attorney Falls Asleep During Trial?

A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals (Murray v. Shriro D.C. No. 2:03-CV-00775-DGC) gives us a look into what can happen if your attorney dozes off during the course of a trial.

Dean Morrison and Jacqueline Appelhans were found shot to death in the home they shared in Arizona. Brothers Robert and Roger Murray were indicted for first-degree murder and armed robbery. An Arizona jury convicted them of these charges.Gen%2028.jpg

The brothers appealed their conviction to the Ninth District United States Court of Appeals. One of their grounds for appeal was that they had ineffective counsel because their attorney slept through significant portions of the trial. The court rejected this appeal because neither of the brothers complained of their lawyer falling asleep during the course of trial. The court also felt that the lawyer’s sleeping did not interfere with his ability to participate in the case.

According to the Murray brothers, it appeared their attorney was dozing off at times during the trial. They said he would often close his eyes during witness interviews and jail visits. The court even acknowledged seeing him appear to fall asleep during trial. However, when the district court reviewed the trial transcript, they felt that he was very involved in the proceedings. As a result, the brothers were not granted a new trial. 1

Was This Decision Fair?

Absolutely not. The brothers’ requested a new trial because they felt that the attorney slept through “substantial portions” of trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed because they felt that the trial transcript did not show this.

Murray’s attorney may have been dozing off, and even closed his eyes at some point during the trial, but he was very active in the case, according to the court. The transcript showed that he was actively questioning witnesses and objecting to testimony. 2

But the Court of Appeals’s reasoning does not paint the whole picture. A criminal trial can have many different moving parts with complex details. Just because the trial transcript shows that the attorney was active during some of the more significant parts of the trial, does not necessarily mean he did not miss key details by nodding off.

The court’s decision shows that your attorney may be allowed to fall asleep during your trial but he cannot miss “substantial points” of the trial. It also shows how difficult it can be to get a new trial after being convicted of a crime. After all, if your attorney falling asleep in the middle of trial isn’t enough, then what is?

How You Can Get a New Trial if Your Attorney Fell Asleep

Fortunately, this can be grounds for a new trial, depending on the circumstances of your case. It can be difficult, but you need to be able to prove a few things:

  • Your attorney fell asleep during your trial;
  • By falling asleep, your attorney missed a “substantial portion” of trial; and
  • If your attorney did not fall asleep, the outcome of your case would have been different. 3

Your counsel’s inability to represent you in your case has to be very extreme. Simply having a “bad lawyer” is usually not enough to get you a retrial. Proving that the outcome of your case would have been different if not for your attorney’s sleeping is crucial to your appeal. That is why it is critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight for you in court.

Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich

Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees you an attorney in your criminal trial, we understand that you may not have been effectively represented. Certain actions by your attorney may be grounds for getting a new trial. If you feel that you or a loved one has been wrongly convicted because of ineffective counsel, let our experienced criminal defense attorneys help you prove this to the Court of Appeals.

With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, our skilled defense attorneys are here for you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (888) 280-6839 to speak with one of our attorneys for free. We will be there when you call.


1. [ http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/03/17/08-99013.pdf]
2. [ http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/03/17/08-99013.pdf]
3. [ http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/04/us/inmate-whose-lawyer-slept-gets-new-trial.html]

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