Morris: The Rittenhouse Trial
Now that the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has gone into the left-right proxy war history books, a couple of points to reflect on that might have gotten lost in the shuffle:
The first point is that this was about one young man citing self-defense as justification for killing two people and wounding another. Period. His acquittal should neither be celebrated as a great victory for the Second Amendment nor used as a rallying cry to recruit Black Lives Matter troops. It was a reflection of the jury’s acceptance, after considering the facts presented to it, of Rittenhouse’s claim that he was in fear for his life when he fired his rifle.
If you are a law-abiding citizen, this should be of interest to you, since your most likely use of deadly force will be to defend yourself or your property or to protect someone else. You might want to know the specifics of stand-your-ground and castle doctrine laws.
Indiana, for example, has one of the stronger stand-your-ground laws in that a self-defense claim does not require you to have retreated before using deadly force, as some states’ laws do. On the other hand, if it can be shown that you were in any way the instigator of the confrontation, you cannot claim self-defense. If you shoot someone trying to break into your house, you’re probably OK. But what if you take your gun to a neighbor’s house on the same block and shoot a would-be intruder? What about a stranger’s house on the other side of town?
The second point is that television cameras were present for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial, so anyone who wanted to could see just what jury members saw and judge the case as they did, on the facts alone as they rolled out one by one.
The remarkable thing, or perhaps the dismaying thing, is that so few did that, instead willingly accepting the partial, misleading or deliberately fabricated bits of information served up by the press and dished out on social media. People started the trial with one view of Rittenhouse’s guilt or innocence, took in the commentary that reinforced their views, and came away with their minds unchanged. If your opinion of this case is based solely on the relevant information of the case, well, you are one in a thousand. Maybe one in a million.
But the truth, as they say, is out there. The transcript of the trial will always be available for those who want to leaven their rhetorical rants with a small dose of reality.
As this is written, the Indiana Supreme Court has – finally – authorized the experimental use of cameras in four Indiana courtrooms. We have been perhaps the most reluctant state in the union when it comes to introducing modern technology into judicial proceedings.
The arguments for and against cameras – which pit the First Amendment protection of the public’s right to know against Sixth Amendment guarantees of a fair trial – probably reflect the debates the Founders had over the Bill of Rights in the first place.
As a journalist, I have come down on the side of cameras, though recognizing their use is not without problems. The reason for the transparency of judicial proceedings was to protect the rights of defendants, and augmenting transparency with technology does not change that dynamic.
And now there is even another reason for cameras – simply to make the source material available.
It is the same reason to support the televising of congressional sessions and the publication of proposed city ordinances, giving those have the need to know – that would be citizens and taxpayers – what police call “best evidence.” Not what someone says about something, or what someone else opines about what someone says about something, but the actual something.
If we can’t trust the media to give us the objective, unbiased information with which to make rational decisions – and it is becoming increasingly clear that we can’t – we have no choice but to seek out original source material when we can and demand it when it isn’t forthcoming.
Not that many people will avail themselves of it, as the Rittenhouse trial has sadly demonstrated.
But at least it will be there. If just a few people watch a trial, to imagine what it would be like to be a jury member and consider the facts and the facts alone, it would be worth celebrating.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.