5 Elements Of Self Defense Explained After Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

In a two-week trial that reignited debate over self-defense laws across the nation, a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse for shooting three people, two fatally, during a racial justice protest in Kenosha.

The Wisconsin jury believed Rittenhouse’s claims that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense after he drove about 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois — picking up an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha — in what he claimed was an effort to protect property during violent protests.

5 Elements Of Self Defense Explained After Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

The lakeside city of 100,000 was the scene of chaotic demonstrations after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed, 29-year-old black man, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

In delivering its verdict, a Wisconsin jury decided that Rittenhouse’s conduct was justified, even though the prosecution argued that he provoked the violent encounter and, therefore, should not be able to find refuge in the self-defense doctrine.

As prosecutor Thomas Binger said in his closing argument: “When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”

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The Wisconsin jury disagreed, and its decision may portend a similar outcome in another high-profile case in Georgia, where three white men are on trial for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery after they claimed the Black man was a suspect in a rash of robberies. Like Rittenhouse, the three men claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Self-defense arguments are often raised during trials involving loss of life. Juries are then asked to determine whether a defendant’s conduct is justified by principles of self-defense or whether the offender is criminally liable for homicide.

Complicating matters is that each state has its own distinct homicide and self-defense laws. Some states observe the controversial “stand your ground” doctrine, as in Georgia — or not, as in Wisconsin — further clouding the public’s understanding on what constitutes an appropriate use of deadly force.

Five Elements of Self-defense

As a professor of criminal law, I teach my students that the law of self-defense in America proceeds from an important concept: Human life is sacred, and the law will justify the taking of human life only in narrowly defined circumstances.

The law of self-defense holds that a person who is not the aggressor is justified in using deadly force against an adversary when he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. This is the standard that every state uses to define self-defense.

To determine whether this standard is met, the law looks at five central concepts.

First, the use of force must be proportionate to the force employed by the aggressor. If the aggressor lightly punches the victim in the arm, for example, the victim cannot use deadly force in response. It’s not proportional.

Second, the use of self-defense is limited to imminent harm. The threat by the aggressor must be immediate. For instance, a person who is assaulted cannot leave the scene, plan revenge later and conduct vigilante justice by killing the initial aggressor.

Third, the person’s assessment of whether he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury must be reasonable, meaning that a supposed “reasonable person” would consider the threat to be sufficiently dangerous to put him in fear of death or serious bodily injury. A person’s own subjective view of this fear is not enough to satisfy the standard for self-defense.

Fourth, the law does not permit a first aggressor to benefit from a self-defense justification. Only those with “clean hands” can benefit from this justification and avoid criminal liability.

Finally, a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as it can be done safely. This reaffirms the law’s belief in the sanctity of human life and ensures that deadly force is an option of last resort.

Stand Your Ground

The proliferation of states that have adopted “stand your ground” laws in recent years has complicated the analysis of self-defense involving the duty to retreat.

Dating back to early Anglo-American law, the duty to retreat has been subject to an important exception historically called the “castle doctrine“: A person has no duty to retreat in his home. This principle emerged from the 17th-century maxim that a “man’s home is his castle.”

In that case, Martin, 17, was walking home after buying Skittles from a nearby convenience store. At the time, Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer who called police after spotting Martin. Despite being told by the 911 operator to remain in his car until officers arrived, Zimmerman instead confronted Martin.

It remains unclear whether a fight ensued, who was the aggressor and whether Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his claims of being beaten up by Martin. Zimmerman was the sole survivor; Martin, who was unarmed, died from a gunshot wound.

In the Zimmerman case, for example, under traditional self-defense law, the combination of first-aggressor limitation and duty to retreat would not have allowed Zimmerman to follow Martin around and kill him without being liable for murder.

But, in a stand-your-ground state such as Florida, Zimmerman had a lawful right to patrol the neighborhood near Martin’s home. As a result, during his trial, all Zimmerman had to prove was that he was in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse was also able to put in evidence that he was in reasonable fear of death. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse testified. “I defended myself.”

The prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse was not reasonably in fear for his safety. This represents a high bar for the prosecution. They were unable to surmount it.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. You can find the original article here.

Ronald Sullivan is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. He is a leading theorist in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, trial practice and techniques, legal ethics, and race theory.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Also that Jacob Blake was in the process of kidnapping a child AND DID have a weapon at the time he was shot. There have been SO MANY lies told about this case, BY the leftist media, that far too many people believe what is being said, … Even AFTER the trial !! It is as though these witless people never bothered to watch it, or get any actual facts, before making themselves look like complete buffoons while giving their opinions to reporters on camera, about the White Supremacist, Racist Rittenhouse who murdered 3 totally innocent and upstanding BLACK “protesters” after crossing state lines WITH an Illegal assault rifle. NONE of which has anything to do with TRUTH or FACT !!!

    I swear, it is pretty much intolerable, how phucking stupid people are, … even alleged Law Professors who write shill drivel for far away news rag websites like this !!

    Who Is Andrew Coffee And Why Is The Media Mostly Silent On His Acquittal?:
    https:// www. redvoicemedia. com/2021/11/who-is-andrew-coffee-and-why-is-the-media-mostly-silent-on-his-acquittal/

    This Didn’t END WELL! Media Narrative HILARIOUSLY Debunked Almost Immediately!:
    https:// www. youtube. com/watch?v=xipdHEzke6M
    Just UN-PHUCKING-BELIEVABLE !!!
    https:// www. youtube. com/watch?v=QSNinsOgoyw

  2. Right out of the communist book of lawfare. The professors responses are based on incorrect assumptions, and misrepresentations in every point. If you are attacked, you have no say in anything, other than to defend yourself, or “another”. Every thing you do, every decision you make is a reaction to the attacker. You can end the fight, win the fight, or force the fight to stop. Youhave no say if the attacker is going to retreat. As the victim, youcan attempt to escape, or run away, but to be grammatically correct, retreat is not what a victim is capable of. The devil is in the definition details. There are no such things as laws of self defense, because self defense is a right. If you are attacked, you have no say in a “measured response”, your only duty is to survice, with as little injury as possible. If the attacker is initiating, and executing the attack, retreat is not possoble, or even grammatically appropriate. If you are protecting “another”, like a family member, even mentioning the inappropriate word retreat is just as applicable as using the term- tie your shoe. This alleged law professor is one of the reasons we are in such a mess. He has no moral compass, no right/wrong switch, and his resoning train of thought contains not sequential stepping stones, but railroad crossings, tennis balls, and rubber dog turds. Lord help us!

  3. What a bunch of propaganda. Why don’t you tell the people how far the three attackers drove to be there? one was a pedophile who died the way he lived. Inappropriately touching a minor. Maybe you should change your name to CNN.

  4. The alleged law professor should have framed his position with”on the politically correct lawfare battlefield”. This argument was settled 3000 years ago. If you are a law abiding citizen, and are attacked, it is an ambush. The only way out of an ambush is to aggressively defend yourself and others with -whatever it takes- to go home safe, preferably with NO injuries! That is why, for 3000 years, the response to an unprovoked attack is to assault through the attack, using OVERWHELMING force! Only when corrupt lawyers got involved and saw money signs did “retreat”, or “measured response” BS come into play.

  5. Just wait for some communist dirtbag lawyer to invoke the communist lawfare term- rule of law! As opposed to what we have, for now at least, in the U.S., the exact opposite of the rule of law. It’s calledthe Rule of CONSTITUTIONAL Law! Never found in democracies, ALWAYS found in Representative Republics.

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  8. Exactly!!!First of all,the setting of the story’s context is PROVABLY,FACTUAL WRONG IN THAT BLAkE WAS AN HABITUAL TORMENTOR OF THE WOMAN HR WAS ACTIVELY ATTACKING WHEN SHE CALLED POLICE.HE WAS ARMED WITH A KNIFE WHICH WAS IN PLAIN SIGHT IN THE VIDEO WHICH MANY OTHERS AND I SAW.If the video isnt faked,a d if this isnt ANOTHER FAKE CRISIS ACTOR SITUATION SUCH AS SOME SUGGEST OF RITTENHOUSE,BLAKE WAS AT FAULT.Race,color,xreed do not matter,even basic five year olds KNOW YOU DONT WAVE SHARP KNIVES AT POLICE!!!!Too many excuses. Others have posted a supposed child ahe picture of Rittenhouse when he supposedly was BABY NOAH @ Sandyhook fake terror event.Most things=unreality.Deepfakes,falseflags,clones,cyborgs,robotoids abound+c.g.I. And other tech which fools us.Truth11.com,whateeallyhappened.co ,dr.judywoods.com,citizenwells.com,and richardlighthouse.com as well as auric-media.net and peterdavidbeter.org explain MUCH-!! 🙂 Namaste

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