Rittenhouse trial: Self-defense was a strong legal strategy

Midwest

(NewsNation Now) — The Kyle Rittenhouse case divided Americans over whether Rittenhouse was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or an illegally armed vigilante looking for trouble.

On the stand, Rittenhouse, 18, testified he fired in self-defense, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, after coming under attack during a night of protests against racial injustice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2020.

Prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse set the deadly chain of events in motion by traveling from his home in Illinois armed with an AR-style semi-automatic assault rifle creating the dangerous situation.

But the jury didn’t see it that way.

In an account corroborated by the state’s own witnesses, Rittenhouse said the first man cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle, a second man hit him with a skateboard, and a third came at him with a gun of his own.

The case comes at a time when many other states are expanding self-defense laws and loosening permit requirements for carrying guns in public.

The concept of self-defense originated hundreds of years ago, with the idea that people can use deadly force when their lives are threatened or if they are not the aggressor.

The question of who started the fight has become more complex in modern times. Stand-your-ground laws remove a requirement to retreat from confrontations before using deadly force.

Though they came under scrutiny after high-profile shooting deaths like that of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, they’re now in force in more than half of the states in the U.S.

Wisconsin does not have a stand-your-ground law. A person is permitted to use deadly force in self-defense if the threat he or she is facing is equally deadly. But, if you provoke the attack, you are prohibited from using deadly force unless you have exhausted every alternative.

“Self-defense here is so interesting,” legal analyst Angela Cenedella told NewsNation. “It’s not even that Kyle’s team had to prove he acted in self-defense. “It’s that the prosecution had to disprove it in order for that claim to not stick. And here it seems that the prosecution did not sufficiently disprove it. So, what this means is that the jury did not think that Kyle provoked it.

Rittenhouse’s attorney said after the verdict his client “had to” take the stand, and the case performed better with test juries when he did. Criminal defense attorney April Preyar told NewsNation Prime” on Friday Rittenhouse’s poise as he testified was noticeable.

“In a self-defense claim, you have to put on some sort of evidence to back up the self-defense, and the best way to do that is from the person who was saying that they defended themselves so that you can hear from their mouth why they did it,” Preyar said.

Other analysts have noted Wisconsin’s law also may have provided a self-defense claim to the three men Rittenhouse shot.

“The moment Kyle Rittenhouse began to point that weapon and menace with that weapon toward other people, then suddenly they have the right, they have the justification to use self-defense as well,” Trent Copeland, a lawyer, said on NewsNation’s “The Donlon Report” on Friday.

The judge, Bruce Schroeder, did not allow people in the courtroom to refer to Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz as victims. He was criticized for that, but it’s not uncommon for judges to forbid the use of the word because it can make it sound like a crime definitely occurred.

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