Is Kyle Rittenhouse's 'not guilty' verdict right?

Sean Krajacic / AP

Fact Box

  • On November 19, 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all five charges for fatally shooting two adults during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The trial lasted for two weeks and one day with the defendant, Rittenhouse, testifying on the stand himself.
  • After the police shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020, violent protests erupted in Kenosha. On the third night of rioting, August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse and others entered Kenosha to protect local businesses from violence, with Rittenhouse saying he was there to protect property and “help people” with medical aid. 
  • Footage shows Rittenhouse, then 17 years old, firing on three individuals during protests in Kenosha, killing Joseph Rosenbaum (36), Anthony Huber (26), Gaige Grosskreutz (27), who testified that he advanced on Rittenhouse with a gun in hand just before being shot. 
  • On August 26, 2020, Rittenhouse turned himself in at the Antioch police headquarters.
  • Rittenhouse was charged with “intentional, reckless, and attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment, and curfew violation, as well as a misdemeanor for possessing a firearm.” The firearm misdemeanor was dismissed by the judge on November 15, days before the jury’s verdict was reached.

Noah (Yes)

Rittenhouse was correctly acquitted of first-degree intentional homicide as defined by the state of Wisconsin because of self-defense. Mitigating circumstances under statute 940.01 include when 'the actor believe[s] he or she or another [is] in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that the force used [is] necessary to defend the endangered person.' The prosecution could not prove premeditation, and Rittenhouse only shot after he had been threatened and attacked, which was admitted by Mr. Grosskreutz during the trial.

Given the clear video evidence of the night of the shootings, the charge of first-degree reckless homicide under statute 940.02 was slightly more difficult for the prosecution to prove. In this case, there was no criminal recklessness. Charges of recklessness are in relation to trespassing, in which Rittenhouse was not charged. On the contrary, trial witnesses confirmed that Rittenhouse had, in fact, been offering medical aid before the provocation, thus making 'recklessness' a much more subjective opinion rather than a crime.

The first-degree attempted intentional homicide refers back to the mitigating circumstances from statute 940.01, and since Rittenhouse has already been established as firing in self-defense, he is rightfully acquitted of this charge as well. The two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment were like reckless homicide in that the prosecution must prove criminal recklessness, which they did not. Rittenhouse was rightfully acquitted of this charge. 

It is crucial to remember that Rittenhouse, like all those accused of crimes, was innocent until proven guilty, an essential part of our justice system that guarantees a free and fair trial. After three days of deliberation by the jury, the prosecution could not prove his guilt. Rittenhouse was rightly acquitted on all counts.

Jimmy (No)

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot three people—killing two—at a Black Lives Matter protest, has been found not guilty on all counts. The crux of Rittenhouse's defense lay upon building a case that he fired his AR-15 in self-defense. Despite the language of the Constitution and Wisconsin's laws regarding self-defense, many see this verdict for what it is: wrong.

Though some have attempted to portray this case as a Second Amendment issue, the language of the Second Amendment calls for the right to bear arms by a 'well-regulated militia.' This is not constituted by Rittenhouse, a minor, carrying a semi-automatic rifle to protect a car dealership. Additionally, the First Amendment protects the right of people to assemble peacefully. It is not the job of Rittenhouse to decide what constitutes as 'peaceful.' Rittenhouse bringing a semi-automatic rifle to a protest and aiming it at participants is nothing more than intimidation and politically charged provocation.

Wisconsin law states, 'A person who engages in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke others to attack him or her and thereby does provoke an attack is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense against such attack.' Rittenhouse was attacked by protestors attempting to take his weapon as a direct result of his provocation. Under Wisconsin law, this negates his privilege of self-defense. Rittenhouse was merely playing vigilante that night. This misinterpretation of the law opens the door for similarly misinformed and violent behavior. With surveys showing that four in 10 conservatives find political violence could be necessary, the verdict sets a dangerous precedent.

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