May judges nap during trial?

May judges and jurors nap during trial? Today, the Washington Supreme Court said yes. It was a murder trial. But they were just naps.

During Noel Caldellis’ trial,  

On two observed occasions, the trial judge dozed off for short periods of time during the conduct of the trial

The judge was not the only one who was sleepy. According to witnesses,

two jurors fell asleep during the testimony of the witnesses who were present at the scene of the shooting, while the events that preceded the shooting were discussed

Writing for an unanimous court, Justice Gonzalez states that Caldellis “failed to show that the trial judge slept through any critical testimony or parts of the trial.” Moreover, the court found that Caldellis did not show “that the trial judge failed to make a ruling or made a ruling that was impacted by any sleeping during trial.” Since Caldellis did not show that the “judge or jurors slept through a substantial portion of his trial,” the error was “harmless.”

Staying awake during trial seems like a pretty low bar for people deciding a murder case. Maybe, as the court says, it did not matter. But if you were facing a murder charge, would you want the judge and jury to be awake?

The Rules of Evidence call for the exclusion of evidence when it is a “waste of time” or is a “needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” In other words, what was happening during trial should have been relevant to Caldellis’ guilt. Rather than exclude such evidence, I guess judges and jurors may choose to sleep during its presentation.