Judge Rittenhouse back in the spotlight at jury hearing | Wisconsin News
By KATHLEEN FOODY, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) – The Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial judge, already under scrutiny for various actions in the case, again drew attention on Monday for his handling of jury instructions.
Judge Bruce Schroeder, who was due to file final instructions on Sunday, took lawyers’ arguments until the last minute on Monday as he edited the instructions on the bench. Then he sent the jury halfway through to discuss with the lawyers to make them clearer.
The last-minute activity focused on one crucial procedure – developing instructions on how jurors should determine whether Rittenhouse is guilty of each charge against him. On Monday, just hours before jurors entered the case, Schroeder dismissed the charge of being a minor in possession of a firearm.
The instructions are always closely scrutinized by lawyers and judges. In a case complicated by multiple charges, victims, and Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim, the importance of the document is clear.
Schroeder, Rittenhouse attorneys and prosecutors spent all day Friday discussing the instructions, continued written communication over the weekend and still had protests and concerns to be resolved on Monday morning before the 36 pages were released. be ready to be read aloud by Schroeder.
At one point, Schroeder lamented the dense instructions: “I just feel right, I feel bad for giving this stuff away,” he said outside of the jurors’ presence.
Prosecutors repeatedly asked Schroeder not to stray from standard instructions and disagreed with the judge’s preferred wording for some proceedings. At one point, prosecutor Thomas Binger told Schroeder: “It’s not the law.
Legal experts have debated for decades how to make the instructions more understandable to jurors, unfamiliar with the archaic and confusing terms of laws and penal codes. In Wisconsin, a panel of judges creates model jury instructions that lawyers and trial judges can use as is or adapt for specific cases.
As with most legal proceedings, this is a decision of the trial judge, said Sara Gordon, a professor of law at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who has studied juries.
Gordon said she would almost always advocate more explanation to jurors, as this is likely the last opportunity to explain the law, except for questions from jurors when they deliberate.
“The trial itself is all about presenting all the facts to the jury through testimony and evidence,” she said. “In the deliberation room, the jury must apply the law to all these facts. And it’s hard to do. “
About 30 minutes into his reading of the jury instructions, Schroeder began to explain in his own words how jurors should discuss the main charges and lesser charges, then paused.
“I ended up in a sentence in the middle and I don’t like it,” he said. Then he turned off his microphone and called the lawyers outside the courtroom.
“I worked with the instructions all weekend and we discussed it by email, then I read them and little things hit me as I read them,” he said afterwards. that the jurors have left the room.
Phyllis Cotey, a clinical professor at Florida International University College of Law and a retired judge, said the scrutiny and revision of the jury’s instructions and even the mid-term shutdown to correct a potential error are wise steps in trying to give jurors a clear understanding of the law. .
Cotey declined to comment specifically on Schroeder’s approach, saying judicial ethics precluded him from commenting on an ongoing case or another judge.
Judges often start reading the instructions aloud and spot typos or mistakes, she said.
“You don’t want to just change it without another side weighing in,” she said. “It becomes again a base of appeal. The best thing to do then is to stop and talk about it.
Cotey said adding explanations beyond the model or model instructions from a court can be a risk.
“There are standard instructions for a reason, and the jury’s instructions can form the basis of an appeal if they are not appropriate,” she said.
The longtime judge’s legal rulings and eccentric manners came under close scrutiny during Rittenhouse’s trial.
Schroeder entertained potential jurors with anecdotes during jury selection and yelled at the senior prosecutor when he felt his cross-examination of Rittenhouse was beyond legal limits. Some legal observers criticized the judge for conducting a round of applause on Veterans Day when they knew a defense witness was the only self-identified veteran in the room.
He has repeatedly joked about his lack of technical expertise and garnered more attention last week by sending jurors to lunch saying he hoped “Asian food isn’t coming, it’s not on the way. ‘one of those boats in Long Beach Harbor “. Observers seized the remark, an apparent reference to a cargo backlog seen on the west coast, as questionable at best and racist at worst.
Schroeder appeared to be aware of the scrutiny. He joked on Monday that he wished fewer people had his email address. And discussing the day’s schedule with the lawyers, he said:
“And I’m not going to comment on lunch.”
Find full coverage of Rittenhouse’s essay by AP: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse
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