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  • Ryan Wittler

Why Can’t Prosecutors in the Kyle Rittenhouse Case Use the Word “Victim”?


Associated Press


You may not like it, but here’s why Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder made the decision.


Some background:


On August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse, then 17, grabbed his gun and left his home in Illinois to hit the streets of Wisconsin, where protestors had gathered over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. While roaming around with a loaded weapon (like any of us just looking to “defend businesses” does), Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber.


For his part, Rittenhouse said he killed the men out of self-defense, that he was being pursued by a “mob,” and only fired his weapon because he feared for his safety.


So why not call them “victims”?


Well, it’s not really about that. The jury in the case isn’t there to decide whether Rittenhouse killed two people -- he did; they know that, the judge knows that, and Rittenhouse has admitted he fired his weapon -- what they’re actually there to decide is whether he was justified in acting in self-defense when he did so.


So, according to University of Wisconsin law professor Keith Findley, to some extent, Rosenbaum and Huber are also on trial here, as the jury has to decide whether they posed such a threat to Rittenhouse that he was justified in firing his weapon in self-defense.


In accordance with that, Judge Schroeder has taken the unusual, but not unheard of, step of not letting prosecutors refer to Rosenbaum and Huber as “victims,” while letting the defense call them “rioters,” “looters,” or “arsonists,” if they can prove that.


Prejudicial?


At the hearing on the motion about which descriptive words will be allowed at next week’s trial, Judge Schroeder called the word “victim” a “loaded word,” reasoning that it may be unfairly prejudicial to Rittenhouse to let the prosecution use it.


It’s a debate that’s swirled among criminal courts for decades, with arguments against using the word focusing on the risk of misleading a jury, while arguments in favor of it say disallowing it trivializes the victim’s experience.


So, how about the other descriptors?


Another blow to the prosecution is Judge Schroeder’s decision to allow the defense -- if they can prove it -- to call Rosenbaum and Huber “rioters,” “looters,” or “arsonists,” as it may speak to Rittenhouse’s state of mind at the time he killed them. Meaning, if the defense can prove Rosenbaum and Huber were indeed rioting, looting, or setting stuff on fire, the jury may find Rittenhouse’s actions were more reasonable.


Prosecutor Thomas Binger reportedly called the decision a “double standard.”


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