Monthly Report

The Rittenhouse Verdict

I always try to teach students that the verdict from a trial should come from the evidence in the courtroom, not based on what’s said or seen on social media or even from professional journalists.

Not long after the O.J. Simpson verdict, my brother-in-law, a public defender at the time, visited my classroom and answered the question that defense attorneys are always asked, “Do you lose sleep when one of your guilty clients goes free?” He put 4 words on the chalkboard: Legislature, Police, Prosecutor, Jury. Then he turned to the class and said, “Either he wasn’t guilty, or one of these entities erred.”

I watched some of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, saw a few clips, and surely developed partial opinions. To my adult friends, too, I found myself explaining that there’s a lengthy and complicated statutory and/or common law definition of self-defense in most all states and it probably isn’t exactly what you think it is. That’s why professional experts and skilled linguists (lawyers) are paid a lot to focus the jury on that definition and the defendant’s mindset and actions. As far as the criminal prosecution goes, there’s a darn good chance the unanimous jury made the correct legal decision.

But the disappointment of the Rittenhouse trial isn’t so much that the man who shot 3 and killed 2 may have gotten off, it’s that:

–Those on the far right decided he was innocent before the trial began because they don’t like the Black Lives Matter movement.
–Those on the left disregarded the evidence and testimony in court but still weighed in on the verdict.
–It became partially a story about gun rights and an untrained, unskilled, underage self-proclaimed law enforcement officer seeking to make justice in the streets.
–The defendant’s testimony became a Talk-of-the-Town review from non-experts like LaBron James.
–The focus rarely turned from the criminal/legal debate to “What kind of parent would have created a situation where this is possible?”
–Some on the Right and those in the MAGA media have turned Rittenhouse into some kind of hero.
–Too many simple-minded onlookers believe the verdict makes what happened in Kenosha/what Rittenhouse did OK.

And, though justice may have played out correctly in court, the judge acted like a complete Bozo.

And much like the O.J. Case, the victims/ families may seek a different brand of justice in civil court. We’ll be explaining why double-jeopardy doesn’t apply and how the standard for a verdict is different. We’ll see.

Here’s a couple useful articles for class:

An Associated Press Explainer

A Commentary from Politico