In the aftermath of the Rittenhouse verdict, figures on both sides of the case are threatening new filings and investigations.
It seems likely that the case will move into a new stage of litigation, particularly civil litigation. However, advocates on both sides may be overstating the basis for a Rittenhouse 2.0. These lawsuits can come with risks and considerable costs. That is why Voltaire once lamented “I was never ruined but twice: once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one.”
Here’s a look at how things could go:Federal Action from the Justice Department
Immediately following the verdict, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler called for the Justice Department to investigate the “miscarriage of justice.” Others have called for a federal civil rights case against Rittenhouse.
The Justice Department does not have an office for the prosecution of “miscarriages of justice” due to errant jury decisions.
Rittenhouse was acquitted on state charges by a state jury. Moreover, while some have called for reducing self-defense protections, the jury applied the law as it currently appears on the books. It is not allowed to simply ignore the law to seek our own criminal justice rules.
The Rittenhouse jury faithfully applied the Wisconsin law and came to a well-founded verdict of acquittal. It is a dangerous precedent to investigate jury decisions simply because you disagree with their decisions.
Analyzing reactions to Rittenhouse verdict Video
There is also no clear basis for a civil rights prosecution. Rittenhouse is White and shot three White men. He was not accused of a hate crime. Moreover, he is not a member of law enforcement or government agency, so he did not deprive anyone of their civil rights under federal law.
Rittenhouse could face lawsuits from the families of the deceased or from Gaige Grosskreutz, who survived being shot in the arm. That includes wrongful death actions much like the litigation against O.J. Simpson after he was acquitted for the killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. However, he was then found guilty in a torts lawsuit brought by the Goldman family and ordered to pay $33.5 million. Those damages later rose to $58 million.
The risk of such torts actions is that they proceed under a lower standard of proof. Rather than shouldering the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of the prosecution, the plaintiffs would have to only prove responsibility by a “preponderance of the evidence.” However, that is no guarantee of conviction.
All three men attacked or threatened Rittenhouse before he used his weapon. The common law protects not just self-defense but mistaken self-defense where a person may have erroneously (but reasonably) thought that he was under attack.