Ahead of Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial, ‘victim’-like terms debated

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Ahead of Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial, ‘victim’-like terms debated

A judge’s decision that the word “victim” cannot be used in court to generally refer to the people who were shot by Kyle Rittenhouse after protests in Kenosha, Wis., has attracted widespread attention and outrage this week. attracted. But legal experts say determining who should be considered a victim – in a case that hinges on Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defense – is central to what the jury should decide in his trial, starting next week. are supposed to.

Mr Rittenhouse, who has been charged with six criminal counts, including first degree negligent manslaughter, first degree intentional manslaughter and first degree intentional attempt to murder in the death and second wounding of two men, is expected to argue Hopefully he fired his gun because he feared for his life. Prosecutors say he was a violent watchdog who illegally owned a rifle and whose actions resulted in chaos and bloodshed.

The shooting occurred two days later when a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake while trying to arrest him on a warrant, sparking widespread protests over the police’s conduct. The expected double check in the trial – of Mr Rittenhouse, but also of the three men he shot – became clear this week when Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder opened a long-standing rule on criminal cases in his courtroom. Reiterated: The term “victims” cannot be used before a jury to refer to those killed or injured.

This week, as Judge Schroeder ruled on a prosecutor’s motion, he also said he would use the words “robbers” and “rioters” to refer to those who were shot – Joseph Rosenbaum , Anthony Huber and Gage Groskretz – if the defendants are able to establish evidence that they were involved in those activities that night.

Prosecutors vehemently disagreed, saying such words were “weighted” and inappropriate to describe the men who were shot, two fatalities. Mr. Huber, who died, had come to the city of Kenosha in August 2020 to participate in a protest against police shootings; Mr. Rosenbaum, who was also killed, joined the crowd, which is unclear; And Mr. Grosskretz was in Kenosha, volunteering as a medic in protest.

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“The evidence shows what the evidence shows,” Judge Schroeder said, adding that if the evidence showed that the people who were shot engaged in such behavior, “then I would not tell the defense that They can’t tell him that.”

Judge Schroeder’s rule on the word “victim” isn’t the norm in Wisconsin courts, but it’s not unheard of, legal experts said. Experts said the word “victim” can appear counterintuitive in a court of law, greatly influencing the jury by speculating that people have been wronged.

State law in Wisconsin allows a person to fire in self-defense if the shooter “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or major bodily harm to himself or herself.”

A lawyer for Mr Rittenhouse, who has said he traveled to Kenosha to protect businesses and to help those injured during the protest, said Mr Rittenhouse was being chased and the chaos of the third night of the protest. His life was later threatened.

“As a matter of self-defense, the people who were shot are being prosecuted to some degree,” said Keith Findley, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin. “The jury has to assess whether they were posing a threat of death or causing major bodily harm to Rittenhouse. To assess that, you have to look at their behavior and you have to see what Rittenhouse knew “

Judge Schroeder, who has been on the bench in Wisconsin for several decades, has analyzed the language, vocabulary, past behavior of the men who shot and Mr. Rittenhouse’s actions over the months at several pre-trial hearings in the Rittenhouse case this year. till shooting.

Prosecutors have repeatedly tried to present evidence of Mr Rittenhouse’s affiliation with the far-right Proud Boys, as well as a cellphone video taken weeks before the Kenosha shooting in which Mr Rittenhouse suggested he wished he had his rifle. So that he could shoot. Men are leaving the pharmacy. The judge did not allow either as evidence for the hearing.

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In September, the judge declined a request by prosecutors to accept a video taken several months before the shooting that showed Rittenhouse beating a teenager in the middle of a fight that involved his sister.

Defense lawyers have attempted to present evidence at trial that Rosenbaum had a criminal history, but Judge Schroeder denied those motions.

During Monday’s hearing, Cory Chirafisi, a lawyer for Mr Rittenhouse, argued that the jury should hear more about the “total of the circumstances”, expanding on a defense motion arguing that Mr Rosenbaum threatened people. And on the night Mr. Rittenhouse shot him while “throwing homemade gas bombs”.

“All that chaos, all the facts and circumstances surrounding what is happening are relevant in the context of Kyle Rittenhouse’s conduct,” said Mr. Chirafisi.

One prosecutor, Thomas Binger, argued that the judge was creating a “double standard” and said that the words he sought to ban – those relating to riot and other damages – compared to the word “victim” were “loaded, if”. If not overloaded”. .'”

Mary DM Fan, a professor of law at the University of Washington, said there was precedent for judges to express concern about the use of the word “victim” where it is contested whether a crime has been committed.

“The defense usually concerns judges using the word ‘victim’ in jury directions,” she said, “it violates due process for the judge to argue that the disputed issues against the defense before the jury can decide.” be resolved.”

Kimberley Motley, a lawyer representing the estate of Grosskretz and Rosenbaum, said on Wednesday she believed the three men who were shot that night were victims.

“The question is whether Kyle Rittenhouse victimized him legally,” she said, “and whether his actions were justified.”

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