Friday, November 19, 2021

Rittenhouse Redux: Not Guilty Does Not Mean Innocent

Emotions from the just-released verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial are, of course, running high. A few things should be kept in mind from a legal standpoint. 

Nothing in the verdict says that Rittenhouse was without blame for his conduct. Being found “not guilty” is not the same as a finding of innocence. Rittenhouse was charged with specific violations of Wisconsin state law. What the jury found was that the state did not find him guilty of those SPECIFIC charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Our system of justice says that when 12 people agree, their decision controls. 

Although there has been much focus on the conduct of the judge in this case, my second-guessing would rest with the prosecution. The claim of self defense (in the context of “reasonable doubt”) applied directly to all of the charges brought. That same defense would not apply to some charges that the prosecution did not, but could have, brought. I’m still confused why those lesser charges were not promoted sufficiently. Simply put, the jury was not provided a way to convict without considering the self defense testimony. 

The criminal trial may be over, but do not be surprised if Rittenhouse is not later sued for civil damages. Think back, for example, to the O.J. Simpson case where he was acquitted criminally but held liable for damages civilly. In a civil case, “reasonable doubt” does not apply. “Preponderance of the evidence” is the standard, making it much easier for a plaintiff to prevail. 

Rittenhouse’s sign of relief may therefore be short lived.

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