A common complaint among trial observers is that the deliberations in the N.J. Rittenhouse corruption trial sometimes last far longer than they should.
The most recent such alleged example came Friday, when prosecutors showed jurors the partial transcript of a recorded telephone conversation in which N.J. Executive Assistant Treasurer Israel Ortiz encouraged James Brown to hide the source of more than $24,000 in gifts, including prepaid phones, bars of gold and high-end clothes. The key question, prosecutors said, was whether Ortiz actually knew that Brown was buying the gifts for his campaign treasurer, Deborah Fusco.
On Monday, Judge Jose Linares set aside two days for the jury to deliberate. Defense lawyers are already pushing for a delay to keep the jurors sequestered throughout the process, and at least one juror has indicated that he might be willing to break the bond.
But whatever happens, the jury will not be part of the traditional media and public spectacle of such trials. What actually happens at these sessions, here’s a breakdown of what jurors can see and hear:
Until it first started, the jury had appeared to be on track to reach a verdict at the end of the trial, either Friday or Monday. But just after the jury resumed its deliberations Monday morning, Fusco filed a motion to throw out the bill of information and the government suddenly called for a mistrial, calling the current charge “absurd” and “overly broad.”
Linares granted Fusco’s motion, and the court could not hear any more statements from the jurors, and the next scheduled motion — closing arguments — was postponed until Tuesday. If the mistrial goes through, Fusco’s attempt to acquit Ortiz on the bill of information would be rendered moot, and it seems likely the jury is headed toward a guilty verdict, although that is far from a certainty.
There is no recording of the courtroom deliberations. The judge has set aside two days of break so that the jurors can take a break, and most likely are not planning to meet at all Friday, except for food and deliveries.
In public, the jury does not return to deliberations until about every 10 hours. At the conclusion of discussions, the judge returns the jury’s notes, and the judge or the jurors can read through them when they are ready.
In such a case, the only reference to deliberations available to the public will be a written transcript of testimony from one of the jurors that is entered into the record.
In comparison to the Yankees-Phillies baseball playoff game, the length of the Rittenhouse jury deliberations is less. The official count for the 1991 game was 11 hours and 55 minutes, and a single-felony jury deliberation has now lasted 11 hours: it lasted eight hours Monday, with other jurors present during that time.
There are also worse ways to set a record. The longest jury deliberations in criminal history — which wasn’t even foreseen at the time — happened in Arizona in 2000. A jury had deliberated more than 18 hours before convicting an Arizona man for sexually assaulting an infant.