Under Wisconsin’s self-defense laws, prosecutors in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial faced a difficult legal challenge, proving a negative result.
Rittenhouse’s testimony that he acted in self-defense when he killed two men and injured another during a chaotic night of protests in Kenosha.
Wis Last year compelled the State to convince a jury that the 17-year-old did not have a reasonable belief, his life was in danger, legal experts have said.
“It is one thing to prove something in the affirmative, It is quite another to prove that something does not exist, which prosecutors had to prove,” the former Supreme Court judge said, from Wisconsin, Janine Geske, now a professor of law.
On Friday, a jury acquitted Rittenhouse of five counts, including two of murder, in a case that reignited the gun debate in the United States and the scope of the law on self-defense in court.
Wisconsin is one of at least 15 states that place the onus on prosecutors to rebut a defendant’s claim for self-defense, according to the non-partisan National Conference of State Lawmakers.
Kenosha County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Binger argued at trial that Rittenhouse was an assailant in the August 25, 2020 clash and created an “active shooters” scenario that resulted in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 years, and Anthony Huber, 26, and the injury of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.
The defense argued that Rittenhouse, who legally carried an AR15 type rifle, was repeatedly attacked after taking him to Kenosha to protect private property and shooting men fearing for his life.
Wisconsin criminal defense attorney Daniel Adams, who has been following the trial closely, called the verdict “very dramatic but not entirely surprising,” just walk down the street. It was not people who were protesting.
They were actively engaged in contradictory ways with Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse’s risky decision to take a stand in his defense has made it even more difficult for prosecutors to refute his claims of self-defense, lawyers said.
Rittenhouse told the prosecution during cross-examination: “I did what I had to do to arrest the person who is attacking me.Some legal observers said the prosecution was hampered even by its own mistakes.
Wisconsin defense attorney Benjamin Van Severen said prosecutors could have focused questioning witnesses, especially Grosskreutz, to obtain more favorable testimony.
Grosskreutz testified that Rittenhouse did not shoot until he pointed his gun at Rittenhouse. Paul Applebaum, a criminal defense attorney practicing in Minnesota, said the jury was also likely in favor of the self-defense arguments.
“There is a lot more appetite for people who claim to be afraid for their lives and have used guns to resolve the situation.
The Rittenhouse trial was the most high-profile U.S. civil self-defense case since a man named George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013.
Geske, the former judge, praised the jury’s broad deliberation for more than three days, but said he feared the verdict would send a broader message that “when you’re protest or counter-protest, it is perfectly normal to carry weapons charged to “protect yourself”.