A judge defended his decision to bar prosecutors from calling the men shot by Kyle Rittenhouse “victims.”
“Is it so difficult to use the term complaining witness?” Judge Bruce Schroeder said during a tangent on Wednesday.
It’s common for judges to ban the term during trials, because it implies that a crime was definitively committed.
The judge in Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial on Wednesday defended his decision to bar prosecutors from calling the men who the teenager shot “victims,” explaining that the term was unfair to defendants in trials who have not yet been convicted of crimes and are presumed innocent.
Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder discussed the rule — which is standard practice in courtrooms across the country — during a tangent as the jury continued its second day of deliberations. Judges often ban the word “victim” during trials because it implies that a crime was definitively committed and could therefore prejudice a jury against a defendant.
Schroeder explained that it’s the jury’s job to determine whether the men Rittenhouse shot were, indeed, victims. Rittenhouse is on trial for fatally shooting two men and injuring a third, but testified that he opened fire in self-defense after all three men attacked him.
“How would you like to be put on trial for a crime, and the judge introduces the case to the jury by introducing you as the defendant, and the person who is accusing you as the victim?” Schroeder asked the courtroom.
He added: “And then throughout the trial having all the references to the complaining witnesses as being a victim. Is it so difficult to use the term complaining witness instead of pre-judging what the jury is here to determine as to whether there’s a victim and whether there was a crime committed?”
His remarks came amid a broader discussion about a jury note requesting to see videos from the trial. Schroeder also used the opportunity to defend his decision to allow Rittenhouse to draw the six alternate jurors from a raffle tumbler.
In a pre-trial hearing last month, prosecutors had asked Schroeder to bar defense attorneys from referring to the men Rittenhouse shot as “arsonists,” “rioters,” and “looters”, since prosecutors were barred from using the word “victims.” Schroeder denied their request, stating that the defense could use “arsonists,” “rioters,” and “looters” so long as they backed up those terms with evidence.
Ultimately, both defense attorneys and prosecutors used one or more of those terms during the trial to describe the men who were shot: Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz. The lead prosecutor, Thomas Binger, even said during his closing statement that if Rosenbaum hadn’t been fatally shot, Binger would have likely charged him with arson.
In the pre-trial hearing in October, Schroeder had also said prosecutors would be free to use their own harsh terms to describe Rittenhouse, such as “cold-blooded killer,” so long as they, too, provided evidence.
During his remarks on Wednesday, Schroeder denounced media coverage of the trial as “grossly irresponsible,” defended the attorneys representing the case, and hinted that he regretted allowing cameras into the courtroom.
“I’ll tell you this: I am going to think long and hard about live television trial again next time,” the judge said. “I’ve always been a firm believer in it because I think the people should be able to see what’s going on, but honestly what’s being done is quite frightening.”
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