The Texas sleeping lawyer case
January 6, 2002 9:52 AM   Subscribe

The Texas sleeping lawyer case is being submitted to the supreme court by the TX Attorney General in hopes of overturning the 5th Circuit Court's ruling that maybe the lawyer in question did doze a little too often during the trial. It seems the issue is " how often an attorney can sleep during a trial without violating his client's constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel."
posted by kittyloop (8 comments total)
We just had a case in my home city where a whole case had to be retried because the judge dozed off during the defence's summing-up. He wasn't penalised in any way at all; he just gave a rather weak pseudo-apology acknowledging he 'might have appeared to be not paying attention' (he was asleep) and how the defence may have felt this would 'prejudice their case' (he didn't hear any of it). That kind of stuff makes me sick - not only given how much these people get paid, but on the moral and ethical responsibilities that our society so freely gives to them. In my humblest of humble opinions, judges should be closely scrutinised throughout their duties, and made accountable for their actions; i.e., if they doze off, they are heavily fined to in some way recompense the state for the expense, and if they repeatedly offend, they should be given the boot. It doesn't sound too unreasonable, does it? I mean, I worked as a bartender, and if I'd have dozed off (or, at least, been caught dozing off... I was a bit lazy, I guess) then I'd have been fired on the spot.
posted by RokkitNite at 10:46 AM on January 6, 2002

The sleeping lawyer is another good argument for the people like me who are against death penalty. It's once more proved that no one can be condemd to capital penalty because there is too much room for errors and sleeping/incompe.otent lawyers. Life inprisonment is enough of a punishment for anybody.
posted by elpapacito at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2002

L.A. Times: "Although the Supreme Court held as long ago as 1932, in the Scottsboro boys rape case, that a defendant in a capital case is entitled to 'the guiding hand of counsel at every stage of the proceeding against him, the high court has never ruled on whether a defendant is entitled to a new trial because his lawyer frequently fell asleep during a trial." It's time to!
posted by Carol Anne at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2002

I don't remember the details, but I'm pretty sure NPR (link, I think) told about someone up north on death row who can't get an appeal EVEN THOUGH his lawyer slept through the trial.

I could listen to the link and verify, but I, like most Americans, am lazy.
posted by tcobretti at 11:03 AM on January 6, 2002

I'd try for a "Kill all the lawyers" joke, but the lawyer in question already died.

Burdine, now 48, was convicted of the murder the following year. Burdine acknowledged that he and a friend went to the trailer to rob Wise. However, Burdine has denied that he participated in the killing.

IANAL but isn't the law clear in that if a death occurs during the commision of a crime (including one of the perps), whether the person(s) performing the crime did the killing all the criminals are responsible?
posted by DBAPaul at 11:47 AM on January 6, 2002

That's so maddening. I can't believe they are fighting a new trial for this guy. How are there people in this country who would want to so completely and brazenly subvert justice? And this ridiculous quote:
If the 5th Circuit decision is upheld, it "will invite countless ineffective assistance [of counsel] claims based on any type of intermittent 'unconsciousness' by counsel during trial," Texas Solicitor General Julie C. Parsley wrote in her brief.

"In Burdine's wake, imaginative . . . petitioners will parade expert witnesses into their . . . hearings to testify that--given trial counsel's subsequently diagnosed Alzheimer's, or bipolar condition, or alcoholism, or attention deficit disorder--it is likely that periods of unconsciousness occurred during trial, and therefore prejudice [to the defendant] should be presumed," Parsley asserted.
So, in other words, if we uphold this guy's constitutional right to a competent counsel, then we run the danger of other people realizing that they have the right to competent counsel? We should deprive this guy of his constitutional rights to set an example so other people won't go trying to exercise theirs, right? I hate friggin lawgic.

This makes me sick.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:51 AM on January 6, 2002

But you all don't understand...those courtrooms often get hot, have bad air circulation, and expert witnesses tend to drone on in monotoned voices. Add to that a need to often get very little sleep in order to research aspects of the case, and you set up the circumstances where a lawyer, or even a judge might doze off.

Another description of this case hints that this wasn't the first case which Cannon slept through. Failure to raise objections during a brutal cross-examination of your client might be a little bit prejudicial. Another Texas case involving an elderly attorney who was used to taking afternoon naps also ended with a death sentence. Both lawyers are discussed further in an article called Sleeping Lawyer Syndrome, which includes a few more details regarding Cannon's representation during the other death penalty case.

The situations described makes you wonder, were the judges paying attention?
posted by bragadocchio at 11:54 AM on January 6, 2002

We always hear about court-appointed attorneys not being very good, and not caring much about their clients. Seems that some judges are just as bad.

I happen to agree with RokkitNite.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:56 PM on January 6, 2002

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