First things first: I’m not a lawyer. I’m a self-defense instructor. Ultimately, the decision on Rittenhouse’s case is up to the jury. They saw 100% of the evidence and testimony in this case. I write the following with the best understanding of the case I can offer in the moment. The case is going to the jury in the morning (November 15), so the wait to see what they decide is going to be short.
It’s also worth mentioning that I do not excuse a minor walking rioter-filled city streets with a rifle. Rittenhouse had every right to be at the protest to lend medical and other physical assistance to those in attendance. In retrospect, perhaps he should have had an of-age Battle Buddy who could provide the armed overwatch he needed while attending to the wounded or to any fires that were lit.
Having sad that, there is a strong case for self-defense beyond the Gaige Grosskreutz shooting (the individual who was shot in the arm and survived). Given that Grosskreutz testified on the stand that he wasn’t shot until he pointed his own firearm at Rittenhouse, I’d say that the self-defense claim there is pretty clear cut. There is a bit of nuance, of course – Grosskreutz testified that he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter. The claim is ridiculous on its face, given that at the time Grosskreutz saw Rittenhouse, he (Rittenhouse) was running from an angry mob. No active shooter of the dozens I’ve studied ever ran from the people (s)he was intent on killing. Still, one could possibly concede that Grosskreutz had as much right to defend himself against someone with a rifle as Rittenhouse did to defend himself from an angry mob.
Now, on to the analysis of Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim.
MIOP/IMOP is an acronym that should be considered in any case of self-defense. The person claiming self-defense should be able to identify whether a threat has the means, intent, and opportunity (MIO) to harm his target. In some jurisdictions, the self-defender must also consider the possibility of preclusion (P) (in this case, attempting to avoid the conflict altogether). If the self-defender can lucidly describe how and why he felt the need to use self-defense under the MIOP model, he establishes a stronger case for the jury to consider in his favor.
Let’s first examine Rittenhouse’s shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, who targeted the teen as he was putting out fires lit by rioters/protesters (allegedly including Rosenbaum). At one point, Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse across a parking lot, threw a plastic bag at him, and cornered him in a used car lot. Earlier in the evening, Rosenbaum had threatened to kill Rittenhouse and any other individuals who were working in contravention of the rioters’ actions. Now facing the individual that had threatened to kill him, Rittenhouse had to make a choice. When Rosenbaum rushed in and attempted to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle, the decision to shoot was, at that point, unavoidable.
Looking at this particular shooting under the MIOP lens, we see that Rittenhouse has a pretty strong claim for self-defense:
Means – Did Rosenbaum have the means to harm Rittenhouse? At first, the answer is no. According to testimony, he was unarmed. Rittenhouse was nearly half a foot taller, so size disparity can be ruled out as well. But then Rosenbaum lunged for Rittenhouse’s rifle. Had he been able to wrestle the gun from Rittenhouse, there is every expectation, given earlier threats, that Rosenbaum would have used it to shoot Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse made the claim on the stand that he feared that Rosenbaum would overpower him, take his rifle, and use it to follow through on harming him.
Intent – Had Rosenbaum expressed an intent to hurt Rittenhouse? Yes, twice, according to testimony. Rosenbaum made a general threat to Rittenhouse and his cohorts and a more specific threat to Rittenhouse himself.
Opportunity – Did Rosenbaum have the opportunity to hurt Rittenhouse? Was he within reasonable distance to possibly hurt or kill his would-be target? Again, the answer is yes, given that testimony indicates that Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum from a distance of about four feet.
Prelusion – Did Rittenhouse attempt to avoid the violent encounter? The video footage and testimony prove unequivocally that Rittenhouse engaged in the most obvious form of preclusion: he ran away from Rosenbaum. Had he wanted to simply shoot Rosenbaum, he wouldn’t have run.
Conclusion – Rittenhouse has a pretty solid claim for self-defense under the MIOP analysis. Rosenbaum had clearly displayed pre-attack intent to bring violence against Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse clearly attempted to detach and distance himself from a known threat and only fired in response when he was cornered and confronted at close range by the threat.
Huber was one of the individuals who chased Rittenhouse down the street after the Rosenbaum shooting. Armed with a skateboard, Rittenhouse testified that Huber struck him twice in the neck with the skateboard and attempted to take his rifle. When he felt the strap of his sling slipping from his body, Rittenhouse fired one round, striking Huber in the chest.
Again, let’s look at this specific shooting with MIOP:
Means – did Huber have the means to cause grievous bodily harm or death to Rittenhouse? The answer is yes, but with a bit of clarification. A skateboard wouldn’t be considered a deadly weapon under most circumstances. However, it CAN be construed as a debilitating weapon – one that would cause extreme disorientation or unconsciousness to the person being struck. Given that Rittenhouse was armed with a loaded AR-15, it would stand to reason that being rendered disoriented or unconscious could have extremely negative consequences.
Intent – Did Huber express intent to harm Rittenhouse prior to being shot? In words, no, at least not that I’ve heard in the testimony. What is clear from video of the incident, however, is that he struck Rittenhouse with his skateboard, which can easily be seen as Huber expressing violent intent.
Opportunity – Did Huber have the opportunity to harm Rittenhouse? Again, yes. Huber was close enough to strike Rittenhouse with his skateboard and was able to grab the teen’s rifle. From that close a range, the potential for harm seemed very real to a teen who had fallen the ground with a mob in pursuit.
Preclusion – Did Rittenhouse attempt to de-escalate or disengage from the potentially violent encounter? Given that he was running away from the mob that eventually caught up to him when he fell, we again have to say yes. Rittenhouse did not invite the violence that Huber brought to him.
Conclusion – Rittenhouse has a fair claim to self-defense against Anthony Huber, though it is a bit weaker on its face. The jury should have been made aware (and may very well have been made aware) that the disorientation of falling to the ground and being kicked in the head in combination with the extreme effects of adrenaline (due to both running from the crowd and shooting Rosenbaum) certainly would have given him the reasonable expectation that his life was in danger.
There exist, of course, a thousand legal variables in this whole case, any one of which could change the jury’s perspective on the claim of self-defense. It’s up to the 12 people who sequester and deliberate to decide whether Rittenhouse provoked the aggression which resulted in him shooting three people that night. From the outside looking in, the case for self-defense seems rather strong – a fact agreed upon by a number of legal analysts. Still others believe that Rittenhouse was a vigilante and domestic terrorist.
The jury will have their say sometime in the coming days.
**Update – Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts on November 19.