Legal experts see strong self-defense claim for Rittenhouse ahead of trial – NBC Chicago



When Kyle Rittenhouse goes on trial Monday for shooting three men during street protests in Wisconsin following the police shooting against Jacob Blake last summer, he will argue he fired in self-defense.

Legal experts say under Wisconsin law he has a strong case. What is less clear is whether prosecutors will be able to persuade the jury that Rittenhouse created a deadly situation by presenting himself to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle – and that in doing so he gave up. to its claim to self-defense.

Rittenhouse, 18, of Antioch, Illinois, faces six counts, including homicide charges on August 25, 2020, the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and he could face a life sentence if he is found guilty of the most serious charge.

Rittenhouse, then 17, was among those who traveled to Kenosha after calls were made on social media to come up with guns to protect the town from the damaging protests that followed a white police officer firing in his back on Blake, a black man, on August 23. (A prosecutor then cleared the officer, ruling that Blake was turning to the officer with a knife.)

Rittenhouse and the three men he shot are white.

Here’s a look at the legal issues in the Rittenhouse case:


The Rittenhouse affair is not a thriller. A viewer video captured most of the shoots.

It shows an unarmed Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse in the parking lot of a used car dealership. At one point, Rosenbaum throws a plastic bag at Rittenhouse before the two leave the camera and Rittenhouse fires the fatal shots around 11:45 p.m.

Shortly after, Rittenhouse is seen running down a street away from the stage with several protesters at his heels. He falls. Huber appears to hit him in the head and neck with a skateboard; Rittenhouse shoots Huber, hitting him in the heart.

Seconds later, Gaige Grosskreutz walks over to Rittenhouse holding a pistol. Rittenhouse shoots him, seriously injuring Grosskreutz’s arm. Rittenhouse then gets up and leaves the premises.


Self-defense, pure and simple. Rittenhouse’s attorneys say he came to Kenosha not to hurt anyone, but to protect businesses from damage and looting. And they say the people he shot gave him no choice.

They should highlight Rosenbaum’s pursuit of Rittenhouse, and Huber and Grosskreutz next coming towards him. The defense said Rosenbaum and Huber attempted to snatch Rittenhouse’s rifle, causing Rittenhouse to fear that he would be shot with his own weapon.

The defense also wants to present evidence that the police gave water to Rittenhouse and other citizens carrying guns, and said: “We do appreciate you guys, really.” They argue that the friendly reception helped Rittenhouse think there was nothing wrong with his presence on the streets that night – and that it undermines any argument that he acted recklessly.


Rittenhouse’s trip to Kenosha will be a key part of their case. They describe him as a budding cop who came for trouble and fame, and that by bringing a gun to the late night protest he was the main cause of the deadly encounters.

They also argue that Rittenhouse was not there to protect companies but to join other armed counter-protesters with whom he sympathized. Rittenhouse “was the aggressor, there with the intention of clashing violently with those who opposed his beliefs,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors had hoped to bolster their case by presenting as evidence a brief video taken 15 days before the protest shooting which shows Rittenhouse watching men walk out of a CVS drugstore and commenting that he wished he had his rifle so he could shoot them because prosecutors say it is baseless. thought they were shoplifters. Thomas Binger, the senior prosecutor, said it showed Rittenhouse’s state of mind as “a teenage vigilante, getting involved in things that don’t concern him”. But Judge Bruce Schroeder questioned the relevance of the video to the charges. He decided that would not be allowed, although he suggested he could re-evaluate that decision later.

Schroeder also blocked prosecutors from linking Rittenhouse to the far-right group the Proud Boys. Rittenhouse was pictured in January at a Wisconsin bar with members of the Proud Boys, but his lawyers say Rittenhouse had no affiliation or involvement with the group.


It allows someone to use lethal force only if “necessary to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm”. And it sets out a two-part test for jurors.

First, they must decide if Rittenhouse really believed he was in danger. Hindsight may show he was wrong. But did he sincerely believe in it at the time?

Next, they must determine whether Rittenhouse’s belief was objectively “reasonable”. To make that appeal, jurors will be tasked with determining whether a reasonable person in Rittenhouse’s place would also have felt she had no choice but to shoot.


Wisconsin law does not require a person whose life is in danger to flee before shooting. But jurors can determine whether someone attempted to steer clear of danger when assessing the reasonableness of a self-defense claim. Self-defense cannot be invoked by someone if they were an aggressor.

Wisconsin does not have a so-called “stand-your-ground” law that grants extended rights for a person to stay put and repel an attack, no matter where it occurs.

Rittenhouse faces two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide and two counts of recklessly endangering security for firing his gun near people adjacent to those he shot. A successful self-defense argument appears to apply to all five counts.

Rittenhouse faces a sixth count, possession of a dangerous weapon by someone under the age of 18, which the defense unsuccessfully attempted to have dismissed. Andrew Branca, a Colorado attorney who wrote the book “The Law of Self Defense: Principles,” said whether or not Rittenhouse was legally carrying the gun that night should not be factored into his law. in self-defense.


Defense attorneys normally oppose the bar on clients and usually only do so in last resort offers for acquittals because the risks are too high. But some legal experts say defense calculations change when self-defense is claimed.

Paul Bucher, a Milwaukee-area attorney and former Waukesha County district attorney, said once jurors hear from the defense that a client feared for his life, they expect to hear directly from the accused on his state of mind at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors would certainly be delighted to have the chance to try and shake up Rittenhouse during cross-examination before jurors.


Under the law and case law on self-defense, Rittenhouse’s motives for being in Kenosha are irrelevant to whether he had the right to shoot when threatened, some legal experts say. What matters is what happened in the minutes surrounding the shooting, Branca said.

“If I had a 17-year-old son, I wouldn’t encourage him to adopt this kind of behavior. But bad judgment is not a crime, ”said Branca, who believes Rittenhouse has a strong case for self-defense.

While not directly related to the self-defense claim, legal experts have agreed that the question of why Rittenhouse was in Kenosha will weigh on the lawsuit.

“Everyone in this courtroom is going to think he deserved what he got because he put himself in a hostile situation. … ‘What are you doing over there with a gun?’ Said Bucher.

Branca said the law and the facts should lead to Rittenhouse’s acquittal, but said he was not sure that would happen.

“Trials are dangerous and unpredictable… and innocent people are condemned all the time,” he said. “So it’s entirely possible that Kyle Rittenhouse will be convicted in this case on the basis of this kind of rhetoric, despite the legal merits of the charges.”


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