On day 3 of testimony in the Deutsche Bank firefighter manslaughter trial (a lawsuit based on whether   Deutsche Bank should be liable for 2 firefighters who died after being trapped on the building’s 14th floor without water after a standpipe was left unrepaired ), a male juror apparently “repeatedly closed his eyes, his head nodding forward for seconds at a time before he snapped to alertness” according to the New York Post.  The juror also apparently mouthed the words “What  are they talking about?”  For many,  the idea that a juror could fall asleep during a trial and the trial to continue seems like an affront to justice.  However, in many cases, a trial will continue even if a juror falls asleep!

Should A Trial Stop If A Juror Falls Asleep?

When a juror falls asleep during trial, what should a judge do?  Should he or she stop the case to wake up the juror, should the juror be excused, or should there be an entirely new trial?  None of these options help judicial expediency, but what about fairness?

First, if a juror falls asleep, a judge may stop the trial to wake the juror.  For example, in 1997, a juror had fallen asleep during the judge’s summation of the case for the juror.  When questioned what he missed, he responded “very little” so the judge proceeded.

What about excusing the juror?

Many people will go to extremes to avoid jury duty, imagine excusing a juror just because it looks like they are nodding off.  For many attorneys, just trying to fill a jury box with those that could understand the facts of the case is a difficult enough task, if every juror who looked uninterested or asleep was excused, how many more people would need to be alternates?

Finally, what about starting a new trial?

There are two main issues with this idea; one trial’s tend to be long, expensive processes and under Section 18 of the Juries Act of 1974, there can be no reversal of a verdict on the ground “that any juror was unfit to serve.”  A trial not only takes a great amount of resources from the two parties (whether it’s a civil suit or criminal), their attorneys, witnesses, and the judiciary itself (there are many different forms, filings, motions, and declarations that must be created, read, argued upon, and a final decision is to be made), but it 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, there only needs to be a majority.  Finally, the appellate court is incredibly hesitant to overturn a jury verdict because the jurors were agreed upon by both parties, there was a trial on the facts, and there were 11 other people who agreed the person was guilty.