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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Case of the Sleeping Trial Attorney

     In 1983, a jury sitting in Houston, Texas, following a six-day trial, found 29-year-old Calvin J. Burdine guilty of murdering a man during a convenience story robbery. The trial judge sentenced Burdine to death.

     Calvin Burdine's appellate attorney appealed the conviction in federal court on the grounds his client had been denied an adequate defense. The case was eventually taken up by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston. Burdine's attorney, during the trial, had repeatedly dozed off. Jurors noticed it and so did the judge who did not order a mistrial.

     In August 2001, the panel of three appellate judges ruled that a sleeping defense attorney, especially in a capital case, cannot adequately represent his or her client. Mr. Burdine had therefore been denied his 6th Amendment right to effective counsel. The appeals court granted Burdine a new trial.

     In 2003, Calvin Burdine realized that even if he had an attorney who managed to stay awake during his trial, he would again be convicted and sentenced to death. As a result, Burdine pleaded guilty in return for three life sentences. Calvin Burdine died a natural death in prison, and will always be remembered in the annals of crime as the murder defendant with the sleeping trial attorney.

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