Legal experts are saying Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two rioters last summer, has a strong case for arguing self-defense, based on the law of self-defense and precedent.
Last August, when Rittenhouse was 17 years old, he was arrested for fatally shooting two men and injuring a third during a protest-turned-riot in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is facing life in prison, charged with five felony counts and one misdemeanor, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty in January.
Prominent Colorado attorney and author Andrew Branca believes Rittenhouse should be acquitted based on the facts of the case, though he noted that the high-profile case is not entirely predictable, adding, “innocent people get convicted all the time.”
The Associated Press reported Thursday, “Under self-defense law and precedent, Rittenhouse’s motives for being in Kenosha are irrelevant to whether he had a legal right to shoot when threatened, some legal experts say. What matters is what happened in the minutes surrounding the shooting, Branca said.”
The lawyer noted that whether Rittenhouse was legally carrying the gun or not “shouldn’t factor into his right to self-defense,” the report said.
“If I had a 17-year-old-son, I would not encourage him to engage in this kind of behavior. But poor judgment is not a crime,” Branca said of Rittenhouse’s decision to go to the rioting area to help business owners, noting that the defendant has a “strong case for self-defense,” according to the AP.
Paul Bucher, lawyer and former Waukesha County district attorney, agreed with Branca that Rittenhouse’s decision to go into the rioting area is not a crime, but said it will likely be a stumbling block with the jury.
“Everybody in that courtroom is going to be thinking he deserved what he got because he put himself in a hostile situation,” Bucher said, adding, “‘What are you doing down there with a gun?’”
Posted to Branca’s website, the lawyer said he believed the case should result in Rittenhouse’s acquittal:
[I]t has been my experience in these politically-energized use-of-force cases that begin with a quick, politically-clamored for arrest on charges as serious as murder, that as further evidence is developed it is invariably evidence consistent with innocence rather than consistent with guilt. This was true of the George Zimmerman case, the Eric Garner case, the Freddie Gray case, the Mike Brown case, the Tamir Rice case, now the Jacob Blake case, and I expect the same will prove true of this Kyle Rittenhouse case, as well.
However, the high-profile trial result remains unclear. “Trials are dangerous and unpredictable,” he said, according to the AP, “and innocent people get convicted all the time. So it’s quite possible that Kyle Rittenhouse could be convicted in this case based on that kind of rhetoric, despite the legal merits of the charges.”
Notably, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled Monday that prosecutors are barred from referring to the men shot by Rittenhouse as “victims,” while the defense team was permitted to refer to them as “rioters” and “looters.”
Judge Schroeder explained to Rittenhouse’s defense team that they may not refer to those shot in such terms during opening statements, but they can do so in closing arguments if evidence backs it up, The Chicago Tribune reported, according to The Hill.
“He can demonize them if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury,” the judge reportedly said.
“The word victim is a loaded, loaded word,” Schroeder added, telling prosecution they can’t use the term “victim” to refer to those shot.
Though the decision riled up prosecution, it’s not entirely uncommon for a judge to set such restrictions.
Last September, an organization that was raising funds for Rittenhouse’s legal defense, #FightBack Foundation, published a video outlining the teen’s actions as self-defense. The Daily Wire reported on portions of the video:
The video shows Rittenhouse tending to hurt protesters during the night of the riot, before tensions escalate and the teen finds himself pursued by a mob and pinned between cars as gun shots ring out nearby.
“Every decade or so, a legal matter arises that holds the power to negatively affect our lives for generations to come,” the narrator prefaces the video. “Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you identify with, this is about you.”
“To prevent the total destruction of their communities, good Samaritans united to guard local businesses,” the video continues, showing destruction from rioters.
“So people are getting injured,” Rittenhouse himself says before the incident, the video captures. “Our job is to protect this business. Part of my job is to help people. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.”
“I have a medic kit,” the teen yells to the protesters. “If you are injured, come to me!”
The video, titled, “Kyle Rittenhouse – The Truth in 11 Minutes,” highlights that not one of Rittenhouse’s attackers were given a single charge.
“A 17-year-old American citizen is being sacrificed by politicians,” the narrator says. “But it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they’re after; their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities, our personal property, our lives, and the lives of our loved ones.”
The trial is set to begin Monday.