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Judge Schroeder allows jurors to go home and take ‘confusing’ instructions with them

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Judge Bruce Schroeder on Thursday approved a request by the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial to take their jury instructions home with them that evening for further review.

Written by the judge with assistance from the defense and prosecution, jury instructions outline “the basic procedure of the deliberation and the substance of the law on which their decision is based,” according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

But while juries being given instructions is customary, being allowed to take them home is not.

Therefore, though Schroeder approved the jury’s request Thursday, he did so against the wishes of the defense, who argued that reviewing the instructions at home may lead to the jurors considering factors that they shouldn’t.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be the old dictionary game, and they start defining words and things like that, the outside research,” defense attorney Mark Richards said, as reported by Milwaukee station WDJT.

Schroeder disagreed, maintaining that the jury has followed the rules thus far. He also noted that because of the confusing nature of the notes — which run 36 pages — the extra time to review them could be beneficial.

“Some of the greatest legal minds in the country, I am delighted to say, agree with us: the instructions are very confusing,” he said.

However, he made it clear that they may not take their trial notes or “talk to anybody about” either the instructions or the case.

The instructions are so confusing that, as Schroeder was reading them aloud to the jury on Monday, he himself reportedly got confused mid-sentence.

Considering that he’s the one who wrote them — with help from the defense and prosecution, of course — CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin was appalled.

“I feel so sorry for these jurors. What the hell is he talking about? I mean, this is the most incomprehensible collection of instructions that I have ever heard. I mean, jury instructions, as a rule, are terrible in the United States,” he said later that morning.

“But to ask reasonable, normal people to listen to this droning recitation and expect them to make sense of it is really extraordinary, especially now — I don’t know what he’s confused about, but, I mean, I just think this is an appalling system,” he added.

Listen:

(Video: CNN)

But again, in fairness, the judge didn’t write the instructions alone.

“Instructions are always closely scrutinized by attorneys and judges. In a case complicated by multiple charges, victims and Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim, the document’s importance is clear,” the Associated Press notes.

“Schroeder, Rittenhouse’s attorneys and prosecutors spent all day Friday discussing the directions, continued written communication over the weekend and still had protests and worries to hash out Monday morning before the 36 pages were ready for Schroeder to read aloud to jurors,” according to the AP.

Thursday’s unusual request and resolution marked the second time the jury instructions had become an issue.

Two days early on Tuesday, the jury requested extra copies of pages one through six of the instructions, which reportedly cover self-defense/provocation, intent to kill and first-degree reckless homicide.

Schroeder chose to allow them 11 additional copies, according to CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz.

As of Friday morning, the jury was still deliberating. While some Rittenhouse supporters worry that this bodes badly for the young man, that’s not necessarily the case.

“There are so many layers involved here. I’m not surprised it’s taking so long,” Angela Jones, an assistant professor of criminology at Texas State University, told NPR.

Indeed, the jury is reviewing four different charges spread against five felonies. That’s a lot. Plus, the “confusing” instructions” don’t help.

“Complex jury instructions can add to deliberation time, [Jones] said,” according to NPR.

Vivek Saxena

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