Legally Irrelevant Considerations Cloud the Debate About Kyle Rittenhouse’s Acquittal
“I stand by what the jury has concluded,” President Joe Biden told reporters on Friday after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all the charges he faced for shooting three people, two fatally, during an August 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it.”
Later that day, by contrast, Biden said the verdict left him “feeling angry and concerned.” The president’s confusing attempt to straddle anger and acceptance reflected a sharp division of opinion about the outcome of Rittenhouse’s trial—a clash that was based mainly on legally irrelevant considerations.
The unrest in Kenosha followed a police shooting that left a black man, Jacob Blake, partially paralyzed. But Rittenhouse’s guilt or innocence had nothing to do with whether that use of force was justified or whether the response to it is more accurately described as a riot or an exercise of First Amendment rights.
Rittenhouse, then 17, said he brought a rifle to the protest because he wanted to defend local businesses from vandals, looters, and arsonists. But his guilt or innocence had nothing to do with whether one views that decision as heroic or reckless.
Rittenhouse’s political views and the merits of the gun laws that allowed him to carry that rifle likewise were irrelevant. So was the fact that Rittenhouse—who lived in Antioch, Illinois, 16 miles from Kenosha—”crossed state lines,” a detail that critics of the verdict bizarrely emphasized.
What mattered, as far as the law was concerned, was whether Rittenhouse reasonably believed the use of deadly force was necessary each time he fired his gun. On that crucial issue, the jury heard credible testimony, from prosecution witnesses as well as Rittenhouse himself, that supported his self-defense claims.
Testifying for the prosecution, Ryan Balch described Joseph Rosenbaum, one of the men Rittenhouse killed, as “hyperaggressi
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