Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sleeping not allowed by Defender in the 4th circuit.

Everyone who has ever sat in a courtroom will tell you if a judge sees a defendant dressed  inappropriately or doing something  inappropriately the judge will order the person out of their courtroom. He or she may even put them in jail if they offend the judge. So why has it been legal for attorneys working in the courtroom to get away with sleeping on the job?

I have heard horror stories of defense attorneys sleeping in the courtroom while trying to defend their client. Recently, I was listening to the public hearings of the Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act. I heard the testimony of Attorney Stephen Bright of The Southern Center for Human Rights. Mr. Bright stated, "....horrified, to this day that people are sentenced to death when they are represented by  drunks, sleeping lawyers and drug-addicted lawyers or they don't know the law.....the bar and the judiciary tolerates that.......  it can't get any worse that sleeping in trial..... "

I did some research to see why would the Judge or other attorneys in the courtroom ever allow one of their colleagues sleep on the job or show up drunk.  I found many cases where an appeal was made due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Many cases stated things such as sleeping in court, not filing motions, little or no communication and the like.  Most of these appeals were denied because being slack, drunk or sleeping is not considered ineffective. 

I looked at the cases Strickland v. Washington and US v. Cronic. These cases set the precedent to allow an appeal for ineffective assistance of counsel. The only problem with this case is that to prove your attorney was ineffective you  must show that counsel’s performance was deficient and prejudicial to prevail.  You have to basically prove that the outcome of the case would have been different if the attorney did the right thing. An attorney can sleep on the job as long as the outcome of the case would be the same if he slept or did not sleep and the judge gets to make that call. 
Today I found a recent case, US v. Nicolas Ragin a 4th circuit appeals case decided March 11, 2016. Judges Gregory, Judge Shedd and Senior Judge Davis all agreed that sleeping on the job is not acceptable. I want to congratulate Matthew Gridley Pruden, TIN, FULTON, WALKER & OWEN, PLLC, Charlotte, North Carolina for a great win.  

I think this is a great win for indigent defendants. I hope this case will end sleeping on the job in all districts. 

Mary Mooney

Link to Case