Commonwealth v. WattAnnotate this Case
In this Massachusetts case, the defendant, Nyasani Watt, was convicted of first-degree murder and related offenses. After his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, he filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that his trial counsel had slept during critical portions of the trial, thus depriving him of his constitutional right to counsel. This motion was denied by a lower court judge without a hearing, and the denial was appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Supreme Judicial Court determined that Watt had presented a new, substantial issue that it could not have considered in its previous review - namely, that his trial counsel had been sleeping during significant parts of the trial.
Upon reviewing the evidence, which included affidavits from several people who had observed the trial counsel sleeping, the Court found that the trial counsel did indeed sleep through a significant portion of the trial and possibly during an important aspect of the trial. The Court held that this constituted a constructive deprivation of Watt's right to counsel under Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
The Court further ruled that this error created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice and thus the defendant's convictions were vacated, the verdicts were set aside, and the matter was remanded to the Superior Court for a new trial.