The whole country was following the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. On August 25, 2020, the then-17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, was dropped in neighboring Kenosha by his mother with the idea of helping maintain law and order amidst a night of unrest. He was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
Rittenhouse subsequently shot three people who were protesting the police’s shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber died from their wounds. Gaige Grosskreutz was wounded.
The minor subsequently faced five counts, including first-degree intentional homicide (what Illinois calls first-degree murder). He could have been in jail for a very long time.
Why the charges did not stick
Many assumed that Rittenhouse would be found guilty on some if not all charges. However, several important details likely led to his acquittal:
- The prosecution sought to portray Rittenhouse as an active shooter, and everyone else reacted in self-defense. It was not a strong enough argument in a state whose gun laws favor broad protection of the Second Amendment.
- The judge instructed the jury to view the case through the eyes of the 17-year-old on the day of the event. As he said on the witness stand, the youth believed he was in a kill or be killed scenario.
- While Wisconsin law states that it is Class A Misdemeanor for individuals under age 18 to possess a dangerous weapon, Rittenhouse’s weapon was not an illegal “short-barreled rifle.” The judge dismissed the charge before jury deliberations.
- The mob, including those who were shot, were portrayed as lawbreakers who threatened Rittenhouse, chased him and caused him to fear for his life. Video footage confirmed these details.
- The judge denied the prosecution’s attempt to show evidence that portrayed Rittenhouse as a Proud Boys member.
- Wisconsin law explicitly requires that prosecutors disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt when the defense claims it was self-defense.
A jury deliberated for three-and-a-half days before acquitting Rittenhouse.
A strong legal defense made a difference
As with any criminal case, the individual charged is innocent until proven guilty. Convictions must follow all applicable laws and protocols rather than public opinion.
This acquittal is an example of why it is essential to get knowledgeable legal representation that understands all criminal law elements at the state and federal levels. The attorneys handling the Rittenhouse case did their job.