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How Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal reflects burden for prosecution in self-defense cases

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How Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal reflects burden for prosecution in self-defense cases

For many Americans, Friday’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges was a retribution for an innocent, if not heroic, juvenile with good intentions. For others, it was a brutal disappointment, and proof that the courts give white people a pass for their actions.

But this came as no surprise to legal scholars. Mr Rittenhouse once claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot three people during unrest following a police shooting of a black man in Kenosha, Wis., killing two, proving otherwise. was on the prosecution for.

“When people see this, and they’re feeling frustrated, they’re not recognizing how heavy the burden of prosecutors is here,” said University of Wisconsin law professor Cecilia Klingel. “It was a real tough fight to get out under self-defense.”

The acquittal points to the wide space the legal system gives to defendants who say they acted out of fear, even when others around them were intimidated.

Wisconsin’s rules for self-defense are within the national mainstream. People may use lethal force if they reasonably believe they are at risk of death or extreme bodily harm. Most states state that someone who incites violence or is acting illegally waives the right of self-defense, but Wisconsin allows it if the person has “avoided or otherwise avoided death or great bodily harm.” for every other reasonable means is abolished.”

The state does not have a full “stand your ground” statute that exists in at least 30 states, but those who believe they are threatened do not have a duty to back down if they can.

Such rules can be flamboyant when compared with the state’s open carry law, which allows similar situations at trial, where several strangers were armed and took it upon themselves to maintain order. .

Self-defense laws generally do not require one to make sound decisions and tend to consider only those moments that lead to violence, not whether the person voluntarily entered a disturbed state or into chaos. has contributed.

“Do you see the option of going into a hot, confrontational area with a weapon that would be scary to a lot of people?” Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law, speaking about Mr Rittenhouse. “You can’t really say he doesn’t have a right to do that because of the state of the gun laws.”

Similarly, even though three men on trial for the murder of Ahmed Arbery in Georgia chase him through a suburban neighborhood, they are claiming self-defense because, they say, Mr. Arbery tried to control a firearm. Had it.

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Gun laws have generally become more permissive – open carry is now legal in almost every state, to one degree or another. Gun purchases have soared and the Supreme Court is set to waive New York State’s handgun permit requirement in the Second Amendment case.

“If we are going to have a country in which guns are widespread and the law has little or nothing to say about where and when someone can carry a gun and display a gun,” Mr. Buell said. Said, “So we’re going to have a situation where the self-defense law can’t really handle that.”

The proper fear standard for self-defense has given rise to concerns that it is fueled by the same racial prejudice that pervades the justice system. A mountain of social science research shows that black people, especially men, are more likely to be viewed as threatening.

“The message this case sends is to shoot first, ask questions later,” said Kami Chavis, director of the criminal justice program at Wake Forest Law. “If we change race, age, victims, if we change some of these dynamics we can get very different results,” he said.

Mr Rittenhouse went to town in Kenosha with a military-style assault rifle affixed to his chest, saying he wanted to protect the property and volunteer as a medic, although he was only 17 and not a certified EMT. Was.

During the unrest he was followed by a man, Joseph Rosenbaum, whom Mr Rittenhouse said he feared would take control of his gun. Mr Rittenhouse shot and killed him. According to the evidence presented at trial, members of the crowd viewed Mr Rittenhouse as a dangerous assailant.

One man, Anthony Huber, used a skateboard as a weapon against him. Mr Rittenhouse shot and killed him before confronting a third man, Gage Grosskretz, who had pulled out a handgun. Mr Rittenhouse wounded him in the arm.

Even assuming that everyone involved had the best of intentions, it would be difficult to tell attackers from defenders. A police officer testified that so many armed men were roaming the area that when Mr. Rittenhouse made contact with his hands, he made no connection to the shooting.

The jury was not asked to consider whether Mr Rittenhouse was at fault in bringing the gun to an unstable position. The only gun charge against Mr Rittenhouse – possession of a dangerous weapon by a man under the age of 18 – was dismissed at the 11th hour. The judge agreed with a defense argument that the law made an exception for long guns, a general provision that allows juveniles to hunt. The law was written at a time when military-style assault rifles were not widely available.

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Since the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting in which the gunman was 19 years old, Florida, California and Vermont have raised the age to buy a long gun to 21, and Washington state for semi-automatic rifles Have done the same.

A Gallup poll last year showed that support for gun regulation, which increased after the Parkland shooting, has waned during the coronavirus pandemic and a spike in violent crime. Still, a healthy majority of Americans support strict gun laws.

“What happened in Kenosha is nothing temporary,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy in Everytown for gun safety. “This is the logical consequence of state and federal laws being written by the NRA and running unopposed for decades.”

For many who followed the case, particularly those on the political left, the verdict raised uncomfortable questions about the scope of self-defense laws. Madison, Wis. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway called the decision “deeply disturbing” and expressed concern about the message it sent.

“Unfortunately, this will perpetuate mistrust in the justice system and further normalize gun violence,” Ms Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “It is a terrible precedent to allow vigilance to masquerade as self-defense.”

Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court judge who now teaches at Marquette University Law School, said the trial was one instance in which many people’s opinions about what was morally acceptable clashed with the jury’s interpretation that the law what allows.

“I, too, share the view that had he not brought that gun to Kenosha that day, and had just come with his medicine bag, we probably wouldn’t have died,” Ms. Geske said.

Ms Geske said she believed jurors could have arrived at a guilty verdict defensively. For example, they could decide that Mr Rittenhouse’s fear of death or major bodily harm was not justified in this situation.

“It’s hard, because most of the victims were coming near Rittenhouse at some point,” Ms Geske said. “All of those factors made it difficult for the jury to be satisfied that this was not a reasonable conviction.”

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