NJ High Court Rules Sleeping Juror Not Enough for New Trial

What happens if a juror sleeps or does not pay attention during your trial?

Your trial is one of the most important days of your life.  You expect that the jurors charged with making the critical decision of your guilt or innocence will behave impartially and pay close attention.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered a defendant’s request for a new trial based on his assertion that a juror was sleeping.  The court laid important ground rules for trial courts to follow in future cases involving inattentive jurors.  It ultimately denied the defendant’s request for a new trial because the defendant did not request curative measures after raising concern about the juror and the juror’s actions did not prejudice the defendant.  

Your Right to Jurors Who Pay Attention

Under the Sixth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, all criminal defendants are entitled to a fair and impartial jury.  Juror conduct that prevents a defendant from receiving a fair and impartial trial can warrant a new trial.  At times, defendants will request a new trial due to jurors who sleep or otherwise do not pay attention during their important day in court. 

The Defendant’s Burden

Defendants who allege a juror was sleeping or distracted must prove that the juror did in fact sleep or fail to pay attention during an important part of the trial and the juror’s conduct prejudiced the defendant.  The New Jersey Supreme Court stressed that defense counsel should alert the judge to inattention on the part of jurors.  Once the judge is aware of the issue, it is his or her responsibility to conduct individual voir dire and take appropriate action.

Overturning a conviction based on juror inattention can be a difficult battle.  Retaining an experienced and dynamic attorney who will effectively protect your legal rights during your trial can avoid the uncertainty of a later appeal.  If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, the criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler offer skilled representation to clients throughout Southern New Jersey.  Contact us today at (609) 267-1101 to schedule your free consultation.