Legal questions raised after Rittenhouse trial verdict: Does outcome set precedent?

U.S. and World

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New light is being shed on criminal self-defense arguments after 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was cleared of all charges in his Wisconsin murder trial.

After Rittenhouse fired an assault weapon, hitting three men and killing two while being chased during a racial injustice protest, the teen was charged with five felonies; including first-degree intentional homicide.

His lawyers argued shots were fired to protect himself.

8News legal analyst Russ Stone said “the fact that the jury found him not guilty of everything tells me that the jury really clung to the self-defense argument.“

What if prosecutors decided to downgrade these charges? Would that have influenced the jury to convict? Stone does not think so.

“Because the defense was essentially self-defense, that is a defense that covers everything,” he said.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris responded—but struck a different tone from each other. 

“I stand by what the jury has concluded. The jury system works and we have to abide by it,” President Biden said.

“I spent a majority of my career working to make the criminal justice system more equitable, and clearly there’s a lot more work to do,” Vice President Harris responded.

With Rittenhouse acquitted, social media showed people asking if that will make the self-defense argument more likely to work for others under similar circumstances.

Does it set a precedent?

“I would certainly hope not, and the fact of the matter is that you should not have any criminal trial as being precedent-setting in that kind of sense,” Stone said.

He added there is a “real possibility” a future juror could see a similar case and would be entitled to remember the Rittenhouse verdict, and it “might color their opinion.”

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