Mayor Steve Sproul of Moorcroft has asked the court to declare a mistrial and overturn the jury’s guilty verdict from June 26. Sproul, who was found guilty of one misdemeanor charge of unlawful bodily contact, claims that two of the jurors were “sleeping intermittently” throughout the day-long trial.
Sproul was convicted following an incident at Moorcroft Town Hall during which he is said to have argued with a member of the council and then pushed past him while leaving, causing the councilman to fall against the doorframe.
Sproul’s attorney, Steven J. Titus, has moved for a mistrial on the basis that the court initiated a recess at approximately 1.37 p.m. and informed counsel that one juror appeared to be dozing off.
“After talking with several witnesses, after the verdict was rendered, undersigned counsel has reason to believe that two of the six jurors…may have been sleeping intermittently during the trial,” says Titus in his motion.
Titus has called for the opportunity to question the jurors at a hearing, as well as witnesses, to show the court that, “their inattentiveness may have jeopardized the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial”.
The State’s response to the motion, penned by County Attorney Joe Baron, argues that a juror falling asleep for a short portion of testimony of during counsel argument is not enough to prove prejudice against the defendant.
Furthermore, says Baron, trial judges have “wide latitude” on how to deal with a sleeping juror. In this case, he points out, the judge made a “clear decision to initiate a recess” to address an issue that he perceived may have existed without prejudicing either party.
Baron also points out that there is no actual evidence that any member of the jury was dozing off and, furthermore, neither Sproul nor his attorney made an objection at the time or in the days after the jury returned its verdict.
“The defendant’s motion is speculative at best and cites no evidence presented in trial during the alleged ‘dozing off’ that would actually benefit the defendant,” Baron says.
Immediately before the alleged “dozing off”, he points out, he himself was questioning a witness for the prosecution. If a juror had fallen asleep and thus been prejudiced, he argues, it would be against the state rather than against the defendant.
“Even if a juror was sleeping, there was more than sufficient evidence presented at trial, including the defendant’s own testimony that he ‘brushed’ another on his way out of the room as the defendant told Mr. Claar to ‘Get out of my way’, of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that any jury would find the defendant guilty,” Baron concludes.
A hearing for the motion has been scheduled for August 8 at 1:30 p.m. in Crook County Circuit Court.