Kyle Rittenhouse: The Trial of America’s Vigilante

After a whirlwind summer of 2020 in terms of civil rights movements, various legal battles are finally underway for the events that caused so much controversy. One of the most infamous events was the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wisconsin in August 2020. Blake was shot four times in the back by officer Rusten Sheskey during a response to a domestic incident. Large protests followed in Kenosha, with many saying that regardless of a warrant for Blake’s arrest for an earlier disturbance from July, police should not have the power to shoot for intention to kill people they deem dangerous. While many defenders of the incident point out that Blake possessed a knife during the altercation, Blake admitted months later on CNN that he wasn’t thinking straight and never intended to use it.

The protests of Kenosha, Wisconsin are defined by the actions of one young anti protester. Two days after Blake’s shooting, the protests continued, and a 17-year old boy named Kyle Rittenhouse was present. Rittenhouse was carrying an AR-15 in the hopes of protecting a small car dealership in Kenosha - of which the connections to him are none. Rittenhouse was seventeen and living in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles from Kenosha. He had received a gun from his 18-year old friend Dominick Black, who is also charged with providing a gun to a minor. In the chaos, Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters and wounded one more.

After months of containment in and out of jails through conservative donor support, Rittenhouse is on trial for six charges:

  • First-degree reckless homicide against Joseph Rosenbaum, punishable by imprisonment of up to 65 years

  • First-degree recklessly endangering safety against Richard McGinnis (a reporter who interviewed Rittenhouse before the shooting), punishable by imprisonment for up to 17 years

  • First-degree intentional homicide against Anthony Huber, punishable by a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole

  • Attempted first-degree intentional homicide against Gaige Grosskreutz, punishable by imprisonment of up to 65 years

  • First-degree recklessly endangering safety against an unknown male victim, punishable by imprisonment of up to 17 years

  • Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 (the only misdemeanor charge, the others are felonies)

The trial started immediately with a shaky start. Not only was Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder stumbling at times when it came to technology, many have accused him of personal biases, from saying that the men Rittenhouse shot should not be described as “victims” in his court but could be called "arsonists," "rioters," and "looters" if the defense showed evidence, to having his phone go off as the ringtone “God bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. Trouble was also stirred by the prosecutor asking the judge to show a video of Rittenhouse claiming to desire to shoot protestors days prior, however Schroeder angrily objected to that statement, took the jury out, and proceeded to berate Binger for attempting to bring in off limits evidence. Binger believed “the door was left open” for the evidence.

Another focal point of the trial is the now 18-year old Rittenhouse himself. When testifying for his defense and describing his altercation with Rosenbaum and his fleeing (One of Rittenhouse’s kills), he broke down and the judge called a recess. The emotional expressions and gasping for air of Rittenhouse breaking down has been the fuel for the flames of the wave of conservative rhetoric in defense of him. Defendants argue that Rittenhouse was just a kid who defended himself, and that no prison time should be inflicted. Many more radical conservative voices are leading towards the wavering of all charges, including the possession of a weapon while underage. Many opponents of Rittenhouse believe he agitated the protests in Kenosha by his open carried AR-15 on his back, and the hypocrisy of a white open carrier versus the countless instances of leftist and minority figures over the years open carrying and being treated drastically differently.

Closing statements begin on Monday, and many on the outside aren’t sure what the outcome will be. Many argue that the case will end in a mistrial, with the defendants asking for a mistrial grant after several complications came up between Judge Schroeder and the prosecutor Binger, who attempted to establish that Rittenhouse had heard more than a week of testimony and that may have had an influence on his own testimony. While Schroeder declined to make an immediate ruling, testimony would continue on Monday. If the case is a mistrial, this would mean that it is still open, and would go to the state, which has the option to refile the charges, with each side having another chance. However, the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution famously states that you cannot be prosecuted twice for the same claim (Pay attention in US History). Despite this, according to Michael O’Hear, a professor at Marquette Law School: "If the defendant moves for a mistrial, normally that is seen as a waiver of the double-jeopardy, and the defendant doesn't get the normal protection." The defendants made the mistrial motion on prejudice, meaning that the state cannot refile the charges, and have cited “prosecutorial overreach.” If the judge determines that the prosecution is purposely throwing the case in the chance of a mistrial, then it can be granted, but without any case of a new trial. Judges are instructed by law to not declare a mistrial by prejudice unless it’s a last resort.

Many many figures on the left aren’t entirely sure if Rittenhouse will be charged or not, but many agree that regardless of the outcome, it would be a great time to bring up a discussion of rehabilitative justice versus punitive justice. Rittenhouse’s age guarantees that something can still be done to correct his ideological path, and could help the far right extremist bubble lots of youth have fallen into recently by triggering a wave of new protocol to not have another naive minor end up with a weapon to kill others. The trial continues on Monday, and could go down as one of the most trivial trials of the decade for American politics.

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