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What Happens If a Juror Falls Asleep in a Trial?

For many, the idea that a juror could fall asleep during a trial seems like an affront to justice. However, in many cases, a trial will continue even if a juror falls asleep.

A judge could stop the case to wake up the juror, excuse the juror, or order an entirely new trial. None of these options help judicial expediency, but what about fairness to the defendant?

A Judge’s Options If You Fall Asleep

First, if a juror falls asleep, the judge may choose to do nothing. Even in higher levels of court, senators have been recorded nodding off during impeachment hearings, and the trial continues without them.

As another option, a judge may stop the trial to wake the juror and ask them if they need anything repeated.

Excusing Jurors That Fall Asleep

Many people will go to extremes to avoid jury duty. People may be looking to be excused just because it seems like they are nodding off.

For many attorneys, just trying to fill a jury box with people that can understand the facts of the case is a difficult enough task. If every juror who looked uninterested or asleep was excused, many more people would need to be alternates.

Starting a New Trial

There are two key issues with this idea:

  1. Trials tend to be long and expensive processes
  2. If one juror falls asleep, many other jurors are still making the decision

A trial takes a vast amount of resources from the two parties (whether it is a lawsuit or criminal case). Between the attorneys and witnesses, there are many forms, filings, motions, and declarations that must be created, read, argued on, and finalized.

This entire process also takes the time of the jury. Depending on what type of jury trial it is, there may need to be a unanimous jury verdict. In other cases, only a majority of the jury needs to agree (example: eight out of 14 jurors agree).

Overturning Jury Verdicts When Someone Is Asleep

The appellate court is incredibly hesitant to overturn a jury verdict because both parties have to agree on the selection of jurors. This means all attorneys for each side selected the jury members during pretrial hearings.

Since there is a trial on the facts, and there were other people who agreed the person was guilty, most court cases will continue even if someone is asleep.

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