A federal appeals court says a sleeping defense lawyer is almost as bad as none at all.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, on Friday tossed out a North Carolina man's conspiracy and racketeering convictions because his lawyer slept through his trial.

The judges said attorney Nikita V. Mackey's sleepiness meant Nicholas Ragin was deprived of his constitutional right to a lawyer. Ragin was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The ruling sets a precedent for federal cases in the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia. The decision says five of the 11 regional federal appeals courts now have ruled the same way on slumbering defense attorneys.

Mackey did not return a telephone call to his law office and had no listed home number.