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Lessons from the Rittenhouse verdict

Daniel Suhr | It’s all about the rule of law


Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder presides over Kyle Rittenhouse's pre-trial hearing at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis. Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Lessons from the Rittenhouse verdict
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There is no greater exercise of the state’s power on behalf of the community than its police power, to take away our liberty for a prison cell and, in the extreme, to administer the death penalty.

The gravity of depriving an individual of his most cherished freedoms—and even his life—is why our legal tradition insists on the highest standards of proof and multiple tiers of review involving both generalists (jurors) and specialists (judges). We insist upon this to ensure a criminal case administers justice impartially, as much as is possible within the bounds of human fallibility.

Over the past week, our nation has watched the display of our justice system at work as Americans sat transfixed by the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. Rarely does the entire nation tune in to the proceedings of a courtroom with such rapt attention.

The trial has been an education for many about the fundamentals of our justice system, including the humanity of its participants. More importantly, the Rittenhouse “not guilty” verdict reminds us of certain important truths about our country’s system of justice, truths grounded in a lineage shaped by the Bible.

First, we are all presumed innocent in court. Politicians, perhaps feeling pressure from within their political base, feel the need to publicly prejudge a case before all the evidence is presented and a jury deliberates. That’s wrong, even when a sitting United States president does so ham-fistedly. The government must prove its case before it can put any of us away. Politicians, pundits, and social media commentariat alike should all exercise greater caution and hold off on opining before all the facts are known.

Second, we are all innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a necessarily high standard, higher than the “more likely than not” standard we use when only monetary damages are at stake. When the state seeks to deprive us of our liberty, the burden is appropriately a heavy one. These standards of review are gifts bequeathed to us from the Christian tradition that heralded due process.

Third, we entrust justice to “a jury of our peers,” like the twelve residents of Kenosha, Wis., who sat through all the evidence and diligently deliberated on their verdict. William F. Buckley, Jr., once joked that he’d rather be governed by the first 1,000 people in the Boston phone book than the faculty of Harvard University. To reformat a quote from William F. Buckley, Jr., I would rather have criminal charges against me decided by the first twelve names in the Boston phonebook than the faculty of Harvard Law School.

Fourth, we must be ever mindful of the fact that the courts are to render a verdict on specific charges and qualified evidence. The question before the court is limited to specific charges grounded in the violation of a particular statute. Words matter.

Finally, we should not overlook the basic reality that all of the above, and much besides, reflects the fact that we have a system of justice born from our longing for justice. The desire for justice is the product of a Creator who has implanted the thirst for righteousness and rectitude within our reason and our hearts. In this country, we do not follow mob rule. The days when we did, when people were lynched for alleged crimes, were among our darkest days. We no longer hang people from the nearest tree for horse thieving. Thanks be to God.

From the moment of arrest, we have rights: Miranda rights. The right to counsel. The right to remain silent. The right to a jury of our peers. These rights are precious and important.

Nor do we allow executive rule, where the government may do as it wishes without any independent check; ours is not a police state. Our rights are not there for the convenience of the government. Quite the opposite, in fact: They make the government’s job more difficult. Think about this: If you are too poor to afford your own lawyer, the government will pay for a lawyer for you to oppose the government. The governments of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or North Korea were not so beneficent. Though this is normal to us, just as normal as hearing a Miranda warning on a television show, it is extraordinary in the history of the world.

In Acts, Paul insists on his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16, 22). Paul’s life ends in Rome because he exercises his right as a citizen to insist on trial before the emperor himself for his alleged crimes (Acts 25). But only a small fraction of residents in the Roman Empire were citizens. Americans are blessed to live in a nation where every one of us is protected far more than Paul.


Daniel Suhr

Daniel Suhr serves as managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. His clients include victims of cancel culture, parents seeking educational alternatives for their children, and citizens speaking up in the public square. Before joining LJC, he served as a senior adviser to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and a law clerk for Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He is a member of Christ Church Mequon, an Eagle Scout, and a fair-weather runner. He’s married to Anna and loves building legos and watching Star Wars with their young sons, Will and Graham, at their home near Milwaukee, Wis.

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SAWGUNNER

The ferocity of the state's action against Kyle was proof enough that his self-defense actions were perceived as an affront to the liberal paradigm. Would you or I rushed off into the riot's "eye of the hurricane" as he did? Prudence and good risk management would have kept me far from the Kenosha carnage. But he chose to go down into it; that was his right. His attackers-- if their respective rap sheet of "priors" are to be believed--- should have NOT been free men in our society given those horrific prior offenses. The trial delved deeply into details of Rittenhouse's biography even as the criminal histories of the dead men were deemed off limits

CJOH3076

Well, said. The interenet. media and politicians are not the jury and are way down the list of those I trust for the Truth. They can't even report it accurately when its been clearly presented in court.

Bruce

Well-articulated reminders! Thank you! I did not take the time to watch the court proceedings, so I can't comment on whether there appeared to be partiality in the process somehow, as some claim. I am content to trust the jurors.

CROB3561

This comment has nothing to do with the article, which I appreciated, but is based on the comment that the author is a fair-weather runner. I have run north of Milwaukee and absolutely understand what a fair-weather runner is. Try running at 10 or more degrees below 0 less than 2 miles from Lake Michigan in January. It gives new meaning to a fair-weather runner. I know it's nothing like Upper Penisula or Green Bay Wisconsin running still it is cold. I remember the line from Chariots of Fire, "When I run I feel God's good pleasure." I would add and frost in a mustache and cold lungs. Enjoy the run and the Lord!

PWAH6756CROB3561

We choose to live up here though. I'm more in the Wisconsin north woods, but I get what you're saying. My last swim in Lake Wissota was on October 19th, when the water temperature dropped below the fifties. The other problem is wind-chill from bicycling when it gets below the mid 30's. We stop running in winter because it's so slippery on the residential streets, which are sanded instead of salted and stay snow covered all winter. One thing we love to do is visit the south this time of year! Oh yeah. And the best learned lessons from this trial are how untrustworthy our mainstream media accounts are. And why (politically driven narrative).

SAWGUNNERCROB3561

My avid running days were in the late 80s when Uncle Sam had me assigned to learn Arabic at the Monterey California Defense Language Institute. The DLI California coastal winters were mild, much much more so than the winter "oh dark thirty" Physical training and morning runs at Ft Campbell Kentucky. I don't mind doing laps in the pool during winter time but then again the pool at Ft Sam Houston is indoors with heated water!!