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How do jury deliberations work?

For two weeks, jurors in Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial sat silently in a Kenosha, Wis., courtroom as witness after witness described the deadly chaos that played out in the city in August 2020.

Outside of court, commentators from across the political spectrum weighed in on which side seemed to be making the more persuasive case. But the only opinions that ultimately count belong to the 12 Kenosha County residents who entered the deliberation room to discuss the evidence from the closely watched trial.

The 12 were told to consider only the information presented in court — and to disregard the constant news coverage and political commentary about Mr. Rittenhouse’s actions and affiliations, some of which the judge blocked from being discussed in the courtroom.

“You are not to rely upon any private sources of information,” the Wisconsin Jury Handbook says, “although it is assumed that you will use your own experiences, knowledge and common sense in reaching your conclusions.”

The discussions in the jury room are off limits to everyone except the jurors themselves. Once they enter the room, the jurors would have selected a foreman or forewoman to lead the deliberations, which are to be “sensible and orderly,” the state guidelines say.

Jurors can take as much or as little time as they need to reach a verdict. On Tuesday, the first day of deliberations, they asked for copies of the first part of the jury instructions that have to do with self-defense, and then later asked for the rest of the instructions.

A verdict on any count must be unanimous — all 12 jurors must agree. They are instructed to listen to opposing arguments in the deliberation room and to be willing to change their minds if they find those arguments convincing.

If the jurors cannot reach agreement either to convict or acquit on a particular count, the jury is said to be hung, and the judge can declare a mistrial. If that happens, prosecutors must decide whether to drop the charge or pursue another trial.

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