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Does Wisconsin have the death penalty? Does Wisconsin have stand your ground laws?

The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse was no surprise for lawyers in Wisconsin, where prosecutors have to prove that defendents were not acting in self-defence.

The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse was no surprise for lawyers in Wisconsin, where prosecutors have to prove that defendents were not acting in self-defence.

On Friday teenager Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murder in a Wisconsin court for shooting dead two men during racial justice protests in August 2020.

The 18-year-old was charged with two counts of homicide, as well as one count of attempt homicide and two counts of recklessly endangering safety. He was found not guilty on all charges.

The three-week trial brought renewed focus to the debate around gun rights in the United States, and the boundaries of legal concepts such as ‘stand your ground’ and self-defence laws.

Rittenhouse broke down in tears after the verdict was delivered and would have faced the prospect of life in prison if found guilty, the most severe punishment available as Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.

Speaking to Reuters after Rittenhouse was acquitted, Wisconsin criminal defence lawyer Daniel Adams described the verdict as “very dramatic but not entirely surprising.”

He added that most legal professionals "who looked at the evidence had a feeling the state would not be able to clear the threshold of disproving self-defence beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Self-defence and ‘stand your ground’ laws in Wisconsin

While the principle of Second Amendment Rights is enshrined in law across the country, the boundaries of those rights can vary greatly between states. In Wisconsin there is no specific ‘stand your ground’ law which offers greater protection against prosecution in the instance of using a firearm in self-defence.

States which have passed ‘stand your ground’ legislation have essentially removed the requirement for individuals to have exhausted all other options before using a firearm in self-defence. The additional protections are based on an 18th century legal precedent known as the ‘Castle Doctrine,’ which gives individuals the right to use force when protecting their dwelling, workplace or motor vehicle.

However in 2005 the state of Florida built upon this precedent to introduce the phrase ‘stand your ground’ and remove the requirement to attempt to retreat before opting to use a firearm.

In Florida the legislation ensures that a person “who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

But Wisconsin has no such law and as such Rittenhouse’s actions could only be justified if he had no other option when confronted by the protesters. The then-17-year-old had travelled 20 miles from Antioch, Illinois, ostensibly to protect business premises from the threat of damage. Too young to buy a firearm, he had picked up an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle from a friend and headed to downtown Kenosha at the height of the racial justice protests.

However Wisconsin is one of 15 states which places the burden of proof on prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defence claim, rather than requiring the defendant to prove he had exhausted all other options.

In this instance, the prosecution were unable to prove that Rittenhouse had other options to ensure his safety in the face of the crowd of protestors and the 18-year-old was acquitted.


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