What to Know About the Length of the Jury Deliberations in the Rittenhouse Trial
Juries can take days to either acquit or convict.
What can be deduced from the length of jury deliberations in the Rittenhouse case? Not much, experts say.
Nov. 18, 2021, 3:40 p.m. ET
By Dan Hinkel
Kyle Rittenhouse at a meeting called by Judge Bruce Schroeder in Kenosha County Courthouse on Thursday.Credit…Pool photo by Sean Krajacic
KENOSHA, Wis. — Only 12 people know definitively why jury deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial have lasted nearly three days without a verdict.
But one thing is clear: The length of the deliberations is not necessarily a good or bad sign for either side, and there have been high-profile precedents for both acquittals and convictions after lengthy deliberations.
The only things jurors have made clear about their approach is that at least some of them wanted to rewatch parts of the copious video footage shown at trial and that they needed more copies of the 36 pages of jury instructions.
Juries can take days to either acquit or convict. Jurors in Minneapolis deliberated for roughly 10 hours over two days in April before convicting Derek Chauvin, a former police officer, of charges including second-degree murder for killing George Floyd.
A Florida jury weighed charges against George Zimmerman for more than 16 hours before acquitting him in 2013 of counts including second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.
It took about 35 hours over nine days for jurors in California to acquit the actor Robert Blake in 2005 of murdering his wife. “You can’t read anything into it in terms of the length of the deliberations other than it’s so intensely stressful for the parties,” said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.
Mr. Meyn noted that Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense has sought to limit the number of times jurors could rewatch videos while prosecutors argued for unlimited viewing. That makes sense, Mr. Meyn said, because his lawyers would more likely want jurors to focus on Mr. Rittenhouse’s testimony.
The defense lawyers’ best case is “if the jury believes what comes out of their client’s mouth,” Mr. Meyn said. As the hours have passed in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case, long stretches with no word from the jury have been punctuated by the parties being called back to court for notes from the jury, arguments over motions and other matters.
The time taken and the jury’s request for the video evidence suggest the panel is using an evidence-based approach that is more likely to lead to a thorough deliberation and less likely a deadlock, said Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School who has extensively studied the jury system.
Juries will sometimes take a “verdict-driven” approach in which people state their opinions early in deliberations, she said. “If you say right away, ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ you’ve made something of a public commitment” to a position that is less likely to change, Ms. Hans said.
That approach is more likely to lead to a hung jury, she added.
Mr. Rittenhouse, his family members and lawyers have holed up in a room one floor up from the courtroom where Bruce Schroeder, a Kenosha County Circuit Court judge, has been working through other cases while he waits.
Not knowing what jurors are thinking takes a toll, said John A. Birdsall, a Milwaukee-based lawyer who is not involved in Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial but has endured jury deliberations lasting up to a week.
He said he has spent those stretches trying to work on his other cases. “It’s very nerve-racking. You’re trying to parse every question that comes down to gauge where they’re at,” he said. “But, of course, it’s all just guess work.”