Nov. 13 (UPI) — An Illinois appeals court ruled this month that a sleeping judge is no reason to have a retrial.
The divided Appellate Court based its decision on the 2014 murder trial of Nicholas Sheley, who was tried — and eventually convicted — four murders with Judge Jeffrey O’Connor presiding. At one point during the trial, the lights were dimmed to show a video. When the defense attorney asked O’Connor a question, the judge didn’t respond because he had fallen asleep.
After Sheley was convicted, his defense team asked for a new trial on the grounds that the judge fell asleep. But O’Connor denied the request, as well as the allegations he nodded off by 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, according to the Chicago Tribune.
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.
But in a dissenting opinion Judge Mary O’Brien disagreed said, “A judge cannot be actively present on the bench when he is asleep.”
But sleeping judges is 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.”
However, a 2016 study found that, on average, sleep-deprived judges dole out sentences 5 percent longer than well-rested judges.
Whether that would have affected Sheley’s sentence is unlikely.
According to the Belleville News Democrat, Sheley is serving six life sentences for the Illinois murders, two life sentences for two murders in Missouri he confessed to and another 75 years for two counts of armed criminal action.