Kyle Rittenhouse Getting Such Fair Trial You're Gonna Get Sick Of Fairness
Last summer, Kyle Rittenhouse went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- not to protest the oppression of Black people, but to intimate those who were with a semiautomatic rifle. He killed two men and shot a third who survived.
Jury selection in the Rittenhouse trial begins today. At trial, prosecutors will not be allowed to refer to the men Rittenhouse killed as "victims." The defense, on the other hand, will be allowed to refer to the deceased as "arsonists" and "looters."
This is America.
What the hell is going on in Kenosha?
On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz. His trial for first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree reckless endangerment, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and unlawful possession of a firearm starts this week.
As Stephen already so aptly explained, Kenosha Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled that the prosecution may not refer to the people Rittenhouse indisputably shot as "victims." And then the judge decided to go even further than that, banning the phrase "alleged victims," because "[t]he word 'victim' is a loaded, loaded word. 'Alleged victim' is a cousin to it."
But that's not all! The judge also ruled that the defense can refer to the men their client killed as "arsonists," "rioters," and "looters," saying from the bench:
"Let the evidence show what the evidence shows, that any or one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting or looting, then I'm not going to tell the defense they can't call them that[.]"
So that's insane ...
To start, Rittenhouse's defense lawyers asking to not refer to the alleged victims as just "victims" actually is a normal thing. A good criminal defense attorney will try to keep any words that could bias jurors out of the trial.
But here's the thing. "Alleged victim" is pretty much the go-to here. I'm sure it has happened, but I have never personally seen a criminal trial where "alleged victim" was banned. And I've seen a lot of trials.
It's hard for me to even pretend to be objective in this case, but I do care a lot about the rights of criminal defendants, so I asked a friendly neighborhood public defender for his opinion. He told me that he filed a motion to stop the prosecutors from referring to people as "victims" during his trials. He also said that he never expected the motion to be granted (and that he would use "alleged victim" at trial, himself).
So that's ... odd. But hey, maybe Judge Schroeder is just really a stickler for language and fairness who thinks a lot about vernacular and linguistics?
Because again, in the same hearing where he said referring to the dead men as "alleged victims" was too prejudicial, he also said it was A-OK to call them "arsonists" and "looters," as long as the defense presents evidence of it. Which would seem to conflict with the "stickler for language" theory.
What I want to know is what kind of burden of proof Judge Schroeder is requiring before the defense can refer to dead men as criminals. Because let's remember a couple of very important things: Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz are not on trial. In fact, Rosenbaum and Huber can't be tried for any crimes, since, you know, Kyle Rittenhouse shot them to death. But I digress.
In the American legal system, people are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty. And they aren't guilty unless and until they plead guilty to a crime or are found guilty by a jury of their peers. And, yes, this includes people who are no longer alive because a white kid from Antioch, Illinois, shot them dead.
Do Rittenhouses's attorneys have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the people their client shot were "arsonists" and "looters"? That sounds impossible, as none of the men were ever charged with any of those crimes, much less tried for them. (There is also the fact that Rittenhouse, himself, couldn't have known whether the people he shot were engaged in looting or arson, so it has no relevance to his "self-defense" claim. Are "facts" super-important to Judge Schroeder? That is a question we have!)
So, in sum, not only is Judge Schroeder apparently cool with prejudicing the jury against the men the defendant indisputably shot, he is also seemingly fine with being legally and linguistically wrong, since (1) trials of dead people aren't a thing; and (2) none of the alleged victims was ever even charged with a crime, much less found guilty of one.
But here's the thing about being legally wrong in this case: it doesn't matter, as long as Rittenhouse is acquitted. When a criminal defendant is convicted, they get to appeal the verdict. When a criminal defendant is acquitted, that's the ballgame. There is no appeal for an acquittal.
Is that what Judge Schroeder is going for?
Ah, more racist fuckery
Nothing to see here, just the American criminal legal system working the way it was originally intended: to give no value to the lives of Black people and protect white men.
In the meantime, I'll just be over here wondering what the trial would look like if the tables were turned and a Black man had mowed down some white protesters with an assault rifle.
Haha, just kidding, I won't be wondering what that trial would look like — because one might not even happen. Considering American history, my fictional Black man may well have just been executed by the police on the spot.
Follow Jamie on Twitter!