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Court: Sleeping Judge Isn't Grounds for Retrial

Kansas Supreme Court decides against reversing man's conviction
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 28, 2019 4:54 AM CST
Daquantrius Johnson.   (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, HO)
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(Newser) – The Kansas Supreme Court says a guilty ruling against a man accused of firearms charges shouldn’t be automatically reversed because the judge fell asleep during the first day of trial, the AP reports. The high court on Wednesday rejected a legal interpretation by the lower Kansas Court of Appeals that granted a new trial to Daquantrius Johnson. Justice Caleb Stegall wrote in the court’s opinion that there is no state precedent to justify a finding of structural error simply because a judge catnapped during the proceedings, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. District Judge Benjamin Burgess, who has now retired, acknowledged to the jury that he fell asleep during the trial in 2017 but noted that no objections from attorneys were raised while he was out of commission.

The Supreme Court concluded that the trial judge’s slumber amounted to regrettable misconduct. The Wichita Eagle reports that the ruling compared the sleepy judge to a dozing driver. Just like a driver who feels the overwhelming physical need for sleep should immediately get off the road, a responsible judge charged with overseeing a criminal trial who feels the need for sleep, and can no longer successfully put it off, has a responsibility to call a halt to the proceedings," the ruling said. "But just as not every dozing driver causes an accident, not every instance of a dozing judge must lead to an automatic reversal." Johnson, who was already serving 11 years for stealing a wedding ring from a dying woman's finger, was sentenced to 43 months in the firearms case.

(Read more Kansas stories.)

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