Many citizens nationwide are watching the Kyle Rittenhouse trial unfold and wondering how the legal process will turn out for the teen. Rittenhouse is on trial for the shootings during protests in Kenosha, Wisc., on August 25, 2020. He wounded one individual and killed two. The trial is determining whether his motives and reactions were reasonable since Rittenhouse claims self-defense.
Although some criminal and civil cases have required jury members to be sequestered—separated from other people until the conclusion of the trial—the Rittenhouse jury hasn't been sequestered. Instead, the jurors are expected, based on the honor system, to avoid speaking to anyone or consuming any news media.
Keith Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR that the jury not being sequestered could be an issue. He noted that the jury was instructed to isolate from outside influences. However, without control of that, it’s hard to know whether the jury will remain focused on the information presented throughout the trial.
Is the Rittenhouse judge biased?
The judge presiding over Rittenhouse’s trial, Bruce Schroeder, has shared a number of comments and opinions during the trial that raise questions of bias. Some of his comments, although not directly related to the material in the Rittenhouse trial, have led people to make assumptions about his beliefs that could impact the trial.
The judge faced criticism for that comment. Stanford law professor Michele Dauber tweeted, “The biased judge in the Rittenhouse trial just made a thinly-veiled anti-Asian comment.”
John Yang, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, criticized Judge Schroeder for making “a joke at the expense of Asians/Asian Americans,” noting the racial implications of Rittenhouse’s case.
Another key moment for Judge Schroeder was his rule that the men who were shot by Rittenhouse must not be called “victims” during the trial. Some legal experts say this is a reasonable decision, but question the logic of disallowing “victim” while allowing negative terms to be applied to the men Rittenhouse shot.
Judge Schroeder did allow people involved in the trial to refer to the men who were shot as “looters,” “arsonists,” or “rioters.” CNN legal analyst Areva Martin suggested the presence of bias in that decision, saying that allowing that type of language suggests the men who were shot deserved what happened to them.
Issues of bias among jurors
Having an unbiased jury is also important in any case like Rittenhouse’s. One juror was released from duty after making a joke about the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the event which sparked the protests in Kenosha against police brutality.
In a move that would appear to suggest that the judge isn't biased, Judge Schroeder said when dismissing that juror, “It’s clear that the appearance of bias is present and it would seriously undermine the outcome of the case.”