Rittenhouse Verdict: Who Sent What Message?

There are times when it’s good that this is a law blog, so I need neither Gertrude nor explain the obvious. A jury found a defendant not guilty based upon the evidence presented and the law. Juries don’t send messages. Juries determine whether the prosecution proved the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. What others make of it, from whether they agree with the verdict to what the verdict “means” to anyone else has nothing to do with the duty of jurors. Their job is to reach a verdict (or not), and they did their job.

From politicians to pundits, academics to “civil rights” organizations, the cry is that the verdict sends a message to white supremacist vigilantes to take their AR-15s to hot zones, brandish them openly where they are likely to inflame already outraged people causing a reaction born of fear, and then fire at will and kill, whether black people or white allies. Is it necessary to offer a thousand examples of this message? Not this time. It’s ubiquitous.

There were two ways the messaging of this trial could have gone, regardless of the right fringe’s claim that Rittenhouse was some hero for going to Kenosha to defend a gas station from destruction. Rittenhouse was arrested, indicted and tried for his actions. The trial, despite the desperate efforts of the media to paint the judge as being outrageously biased, was well within normal parameters for a trial. The jury, despite threats of having their lives ruined if they reached the wrong verdict, took their time to deliberate. And ultimately, a verdict was reached.

The first message was that our legal system is, despite all its flaws, an amazing process whereby ordinary citizens take on a huge responsibility to sit in judgment of their fellow citizens. That message would be an opportunity to explain the law and the rationale behind it, why the jury relies on evidence at trial, testimonial and otherwise, to decide the facts rather than the claims and spin of those who twist, distort or outright lie about what happened to serve their cause. It’s glorious to see how evidence is presented, subject to the crucible of cross-examination, admitted into evidence, objected to, argued about, disputed, and ultimately determined after having been run through the legal sausage machine.

That could have been the message, that for all its flaws, internal and caused by the flawed human beings who pull its levers, it is an amazing system.

That message, that our foundational principles, presumption of innocence, burden of proof on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, is how the system was meant to work and should work for every defendant.

And part of that message was the look on the defendant’s face, the hug he gave his lawyer after the verdict was announced, to remind every person paying attention that this was not a fun ride, no walk in the park, no phony show trial with a predetermined outcome. This defendant, like every defendant who stands up when the jury is about to announce its verdict, had no idea how many words were going to come out of the jury box.

With a few changes in facts, fairly minor ones, this verdict could have gone the other way. Any lawyer who has tried a self-defense case will tell you how difficult it can be to prevail. Forget the motivated “legal experts” who theorize how easy the defense is to proffer and how hard it is to counter. It’s an extremely fact-oriented defense, and its reasonableness is extremely difficult to establish.

As the defendant and his lawyer faced the jury at the moment the verdicts were announced, they held their breaths. No one ever knows what that verdict will be. No one should ever take for granted that if they do anything like what Rittenhouse did, they will get a two-word verdict. No one should assume that the facts, as they played out on the streets of Kenosha and in that courtroom will happen should they do what Rittenhouse did. No one.

Instead, the facts were subsumed by a narrative, the process was dismissed as just another example of white supremacy in action, proof of how a white system run by white people endorsed the murder by some white vigilante who killed and wounded black allies. They drew two roadmaps, one away from our legal system that did its job of determining the facts, applying the law, and reaching a verdict. The other to tell white supremacist vigilantes how to go to a protest or riot with a gun, evoke a reaction from the mostly peaceful good guys who only burn things down because they’re really angry, and then murder them and get away with it.

A cynic, stepping back from the fray, might conclude that the people drawing the roadmap want it to be true, want it to be followed, so that they can induce the stupid and crazy to come to their riots and engage in violence. They seem to want those who would be inclined to be “like Kyle” by bringing an AR-15 to a hot spot to show up in full vigilante mode and fire wantonly at protesters, black and white, and show images of the right wing crazies murdering protesters in the street. So what if a few lives are lost if it’s for the cause, if it will stoke the flames of anger and hatred so that people will bend toward their side?

There is nothing to celebrate when people die or were harmed when it didn’t need to happen. Rittenhouse didn’t need to go to Kenosha, didn’t need to bring a long gun. Protesters didn’t need to go out to protest, and rioters didn’t need to burn down buildings in Kenosha. But these things happened, and they were resolved with the mechanism a society uses to determine whether a crime has been committed, as it should be. There is absolutely nothing about the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse that suggests the same outcome should someone else do something similar. There is no other message to be sent than the jury has spoken in one case.

37 thoughts on “Rittenhouse Verdict: Who Sent What Message?

  1. Guitardave

    Nicely done, well said unemotional plea for idiots not to get ideas. Kudos, Scott.

    So,what do you think?….how much longer till ‘radical idiot civil war 2.0’ goes full retard?
    Anyone wanna bet me that we won’t see groups with names like ‘Rittenhouse Raiders’ and ‘Kyle Killers’ getting jiggy in the streets?
    Fun times ahead.

    Reply
      1. Guitardave

        In this case I’m starting to think that the stupid might start ‘fixing’ each other.
        I think we should call it a ‘Darwin Moment War’.
        ( …and like all wars, the non-stupid will suffer the repercussions.)

        Reply
  2. Richard Kopf

    SHG,

    You conclude: “There is no other message to be sent than the jury has spoken in one case.” Obvious, but worth, well worth, the effort. Thank you.

    All the best.

    RGK

    Reply
  3. Hunting Guy

    Leviticus 19:15

    “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.”

    Reply
    1. Steve UK

      It’s when somebody sugar-coats an unpopular viewpoint with an assurance of their virtues, to reduce the impact of a counterattack. “I think the police do a wonderful job, but the George Floyd officers were a teensy bit out of line”.

      It would be obvious if you read the blog frequently.

      Reply
  4. Philip A Pomerantz

    SHG
    I have only been following your blog for about a month. This is the best thing you have written, and I think that it is the best thing I have seen written about this case by anyone, anywhere. Thank you.

    Reply
      1. Grum

        Disagree. In an ideal world, principle and integrity should be the default and not something worthy of praise per se. Appreciating its rarity is an indictment, not a virtue. I’d expect nothing less from our host, although I do enjoy his blog for other reasons too. Will that do as a non tummy rub?

        Reply
  5. Dissent

    Thanks for this post, Scott. As a non-lawyer, I found it really helpful — and reassuring — as a response to all the inflammatory commentaries I’ve seen on news or online. Instead of being depressed by the verdict, you’ve given me a different perspective: the system worked.

    Wow.

    And no, I don’t mean that “wow” sarcastically. I mean it sincerely. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. JMK

    The messaging here has been particularly disgusting, hasn’t it? A white guy shoots three other white guys and the end messaging is “something something white supremacist patriarchy.”

    CNN and MSNBC also claimed, yesterday, that the prosecution couldn’t have possibly made a case because of how shockingly biased the judge was, and how he “messaged” the jury to showcase his opinion of the prosecution’s case.

    I’m sure someone who has been on the bench for forty years has thicker skin than an alligator and could not care less about what’s being said, but from the outside it’s still infuriating.

    The media has been so one-sided in this case it’s impossible to ignore. I realize I’m skirting your rules here, and am definitely going to get at least some snark thrown my way, but is it possible to conclude anymore than our “news” is anything less than propaganda? Propaganda aimed, for some reason, at destroying our institutions, especially the law? Facts no longer matter, only tribe, and words, as you often point out, mean what Hunpty Dumpyy wants them to.

    GuitarDave suggests we’re headed for Civil War 2.0, and it’s hard not to conclude that we’re actively being driven there by someone.

    (Footnote: this comment has nothing to do with law and probably lowers the SNR here. If you choose to trash it I completely understand).

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      It’s a good comment. The nutjobs on the fringes are doing everything possible to manipulate others to believe the sky is falling and thus join their side. Whether it works is up to those disinclined to hysteria and idiocy to resist their cries of outrage.

      Reply
      1. Rxc

        The nutjobs on the fringes are the people who drive every movement. They have the “fire in the belly” to do whatever is necessary to win.

        Unfortunately there is no one with a fire in their belly to be a moderate.

        Reply
        1. SHG Post author

          This is an important point, that the fringes are empowered, loud, and passionately motivated to push their agenda. The middle has no desire to spend its days and night fighting, forming mobs, attacking, and so (and it kills me to use this phrase) they remain the silent majority. I can’t believe I just wrote those words.

          Reply
  7. Elpey P.

    Jury to public: “With this verdict, we render judgment based on thoughtful review of the evidence, taking seriously our responsibility in determining the proper fate of our fellow citizen now targeted by the crushing machinations of state power.”
    People supposedly concerned about poor and marginalized defendants: “Fuck that, we need to make it easier for prosecutors to get away with stuff like they tried here.”

    Reply
  8. B. McLeod

    Amen. The people who use the word “precedent” to describe a jury verdict in a self-defense case just don’t get it.

    Reply
  9. Jeffrey

    I was quite stunned at the jury deliberating over 4 days, and reaching a consensus for every charge. What this demonstrated to me, was that those 12 people took their task very seriously, carefully pored over all the presented facts and law instructions they were given, and all agreed to what the combination of fact and law merited as the “correct” verdict. That, to me, was both a monumental and glorious achievement and really spoke to the fortitude and integrity of those 12, random people; they should be applauded.

    Especially given that this incident and trial, for whatever reason, had become such a politically charged event, these jurors performed their task, apparently undaunted and with objective motives, to reach their conclusions.

    I also watched much of the live-streams of the trial with a panel of various lawyers commentating about the various rules of evidence, procedure, motions, the judge’s role of maintaining and constraining each side, within the confines of the laws and Constitution. How such a publicized trial could present immense difficulty for gathering an impartial jury (given the prevailing narratives, either way). It was both tedious and fascinating to an outsider, like myself.

    Watching it all unfold, was both a learning and encouraging experience, because both the court system, the zealous fighting by both defense and prosecution, and ultimately the random jury members objectively observing and deliberating the available pieces, really did support the idea that this system quite possibly does arrive at the “correct” answer for most cases.

    I am shocked, but not shocked, to later see the “outrage” that somehow this trial didn’t go well, according to the usual suspects.

    Reply
  10. Bryan Burroughs

    The sheer lack of any pretense towards principled arguments from progressives here is astonishing at this point. Their arguments for locking up Rittenhouse and throwing away the key are diametrically opposed to what they advocate elsewhere.

    When a black person with a weapon is shot by police, it’s overreaction by the police. Here, the mere presence of a weapon is the most provocative thing possible and justifies almost any reaction to it.

    If a woman gets blackout drunk at a frat party or walks through a sketchy part of town in her underwear at 2 in the morning, it’s victim blaming to point that out if she gets raped. Here, a 17yo deserved to get his ass beat, or worse, because “he had no business being there.”

    Thousands of folks with no connection to Kenosha whatsoever drive hundreds miles to protest, and they are heroes. Here, a kid with a direct connection to the city drives less than 20 miles to the same events, and he’s a “chaos tourist.”

    Prosecutors are totally unfair all the time, but not even a peep about the ridiculous overcharging here, not to mention the weapons charge where clear elements of the crime weren’t even present. Oh, and it should be easier for them to put this kid away for his terrible actions, even though they normally decry mass-incarceration.

    At least the jury was able to see past it and look at the actual merits of the case.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      This is a terrible comment and the only reason I’m not trashing it is so I can tell you what a terrible comment it is. You are doing exactly what you complain progressives are doing, as if it’s any less bullshit and hypocritical when you do it than when they do it. This is garbage.

      Reply
  11. Bryan Burroughs

    Not sure what’s so terrible about it, unless you are assuming any positions of mine from it one way or another. At the risk of Gertruding, I’ll clarify that I’m pretty consistent on all of those… Carrying a weapon isn’t particularly provocative. Doing something stupid to put yourself in a bad situation doesn’t justify be assaulted. Folks are free to drive wherever the hell they want. And prosecutors are overcharging against a lot of folks. Where’s the hypocrisy in any of that?

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      Reply button notwithstanding, Tu quoque.

      What happened here, and what happened with anything else, stands independent of each other. Playing the game of “but this other things is just as bad or worse” is crap. Each is judged on its own merits, for better or worse.

      Reply
      1. Bryan Burroughs

        Agreed. Any time you point out hypocrisy, you venture close to tu quoque territory. I don’t think Rittenhouse is justified based on bad acts by others. His actions stand on their own and should be judged as such. Rather, I’m pointing out the disingenuous nature of many of the arguments proffered by progressives against him, when they roundly reject those exact arguments in situations involving their favoured people. For goodness sake, he’s a “chaos tourist” with zero rights because he didn’t live in Kenosha, but two of the people he shot are “heroes” for coming to the same event from further away. These can’t reasonably be mutually held positions, regardless of which is true.

        Overall, it’s a crappy situation. Civil unrest is ugly, even when deserved. Kid put himself and others in a bad situation where a nut (Rosenbaum) could take advantage. Others (Huber, et al) responded to what they perceived as a threat, and escalated the situation. There are no saints here, and no winners.

        Reply
  12. Anthony Kehoe

    As an immigrant to the US, I heard a message loud and clear from the trial and the noise from the screaming masses.

    It’s interesting to compare the way the US is today, rooted in the common law and having a written constitution to lay out the guardrails against which the State is constrained, to the original source in the UK. Today in the UK, there is no right to silence, no prohibition against double jeopardy, no more unanimous jury verdicts, no right to be secure in your papers and effects. Naturally there is no functioning right to keep and bear arms and they are doing a fairly good job gutting the right to free speech and the press. Since both countries have a similar starting point, the only real difference is the effect the US Constitution has had on restricting the State. The more I hear from both sides, there are parts of almost every one of the Bill of Rights they want to gut for different reasons, but yet so far it has been too difficult to change them. It saddens me when I hear the screams from the passionate looking for their pound of flesh from the hated accused, mercy for the beloved. At the end of the day, the State doesn’t care if you’re hated or beloved.

    I look at what the UK has become and see it like one would see through the looking glass. Rejoice in the Bill of Rights; at the end of the day it is all that stands between you and the State.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      It’s often difficult to refute imaginary outcomes because they’re imaginary. But Jaleel Stallings might disagree. Regardless, every case is different. Sometimes, black guys win and sometimes white guys lose. It’s a “well-grounded belief” because you believe it and in America, you’re entitled to believe anything you want to believe.

      Reply

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