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Opinion: Could Trump's nap in court hurt him?

Courts are not good at keeping people awake. They are notoriously quiet places, where people are forced to remain seated almost all the time. The air is often stagnant and distracting portable devices that are our lifeline (and barrier) to the world around us are strictly prohibited.

This is the kind of environment in which Donald Trump, who is a defendant in a Manhattan criminal trial (and who was also the 45th president of the United States), seemed to doze off in court last week.

Jury selection resumed last Thursday in the case against Trump and there was plenty of action in the courtroom, with a full jury seated just hours after two of the seven initially selected jurors were dismissed.

All this amid unresolved questions about whether Trump violated his gag order by making statements on social media about potential jurors. These possible violations will be addressed at a hearing next week.

Still, the question remains: Will Trump be able to stay awake consistently through the long slog of a criminal trial?

On Monday (15), Trump, who is on trial for falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal, appeared to catch a few minutes of sleep in court. As reported by Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Trump appeared to be dozing, “with his mouth slack and his head drooping on his chest.” Other reports said Trump appeared to doze off again during the second day of jury selection on Tuesday.

One might laugh at the thought of a prominent figure “taking the plunge” at an inopportune time. Still, it was a stunning image that simultaneously conveyed three individuals in one: a criminal defendant; one of the most powerful people on the planet; and an elderly man napping.

Despite their arrogance, none of these three faces of Trump have significant control over the legal system in which they are now reluctant participants. The back and forth on Thursday (18) among the jurors demonstrated that nothing will be simple in the case against a former president and that this legal process will not end anytime soon.

Thursday's drama aside — and to be fair to the former president who may have at times struggled to stay awake — court proceedings are typically boring in a way that the average public might not appreciate.

As a former prosecutor and congressional lawyer, I have attended more trials and hearings than I can count over the years, and I can attest that, more than anything else, the wheels of justice are not made for the 24-hour news cycle. per day.

What could be resolved in a final eight-minute segment of a “Law & Order” episode could be drawn out over days of painstaking testimony. It can take months, if not years (even in cases where the defendant does not deliberately try to delay the process) before a matter finally comes to trial.

People have fallen asleep in far less hospitable environments: Pope Benedict XVI did this once while saying Mass in Malta; Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dozed off during the inauguration of the George W. Bush Presidential Center; and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was caught napping at the 2015 State of the Union (although she later joked that this only happened because she was “not 100% sober”).

I haven't fallen asleep in a trial or a congressional proceeding, but I've also been cursed with not being able to fall asleep anywhere. I, however, am married to someone who doesn't have the same problem. (Marital privilege prohibits me from revealing that she fell asleep on a Zoom call with the camera off).

In practice, there are few consequences for Trump for dozing off for a few moments during jury selection. If something noteworthy had come up, any of his highly qualified lawyers would certainly have been able to regain his attention if the need arose.

Not everyone is so lucky when people around them fall asleep in court. The fact that a judge sleeps during the trial is not enough for a conviction to be thrown out. The same can be said for jurors who doze off. Although the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all of us the right to competent legal advice, it is not necessary for a lawyer to be awake during the court process.

Throughout history, defendants have gone to prison and even been sentenced to death, despite their lawyers not sleeping during their trials. Still, one could almost excuse a judge or juror for succumbing to accidental sleep under these conditions.

A defendant whose freedom is at stake would do well to figure out a way to stay awake. Some judges may frown on a defendant chewing gum in court, but sleep experts have identified many other ways to stay awake, some of them court-friendly.

All of this exposes a huge problem for Trump. The images of him in court are a visual reminder that, like it or not, he is a defendant like any other. Although presumably innocent, he is subject to the protections – and restrictions – of the legal system and has a real chance of ending up behind bars if he is convicted.

The Sixth Amendment requires him to remain in court during criminal proceedings. The rule is for your own protection; the Constitution requires that he be able to “confront” the accusation. No courtroom press conference, campaign speech, or online outrage can change the requirement the Constitution places on you as a defendant. This will mean a lot of time trapped in the darkness of a windowless, poorly ventilated courtroom.

A man Trump's age needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Given that the judge summoned the parties to court every morning at 9:30 a.m. and that the former president is known for turning to social media in the early hours of the morning, he will need to make up that time somehow. It's his choice just where to do it.

*Editor's Note: Elliot Williams is a legal analyst for CNN. He is a former deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice and is currently a director at Raben, a public relations firm. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.

Source: CNN Brasil

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