REUTERS/Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel

Analysis: To testify or not: U.S. teen Rittenhouse faces risky decision in self-defense trial

KENOSHA, Wis., Nov 8 (Reuters) – When George Zimmerman confronted life in jail for killing Trayvon Martin, his legal professionals selected to not have him testify, a decision some authorized specialists say contributed to his acquittal in 2013 in the final extremely divisive civilian self-defense trial.

Kyle Rittenhouse, {the teenager} on trial for killing two protesters and wounding a 3rd in Wisconsin final yr, seems set to strive a special tack. His lawyer, Mark Richards, mentioned in court docket final week that he would take the stand in his personal protection.

Authorized specialists say it’s clearly risky for Rittenhouse to present proof. For starters, it will open him as much as wide-ranging cross-examination about his previous statements and actions.

“The annals of criminal law are full of cases where defendants insisted on taking the stand and paid the price,” Daniel Medwed, a professor of felony regulation at Northeastern College.

For instance, California lady Jodi Arias was convicted in 2013 of murdering her ex-boyfriend and sentenced to life with out parole, after testifying that she had completed so in self-defense.

The potential upside for Rittenhouse is that jurors would have the ability to hear in his personal phrases why he believed he needed to shoot for his personal security.

Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with reckless and intentional homicides in the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and tried murder for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, with a bullet to the arm.

Like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse is a divisive determine. He’s a hero to some conservatives who consider in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified, whereas many on the political left have labeled him a vigilante killer.

If convicted, he faces a sentence of life in jail. His legal professionals have mentioned they are going to present Rittenhouse acted in self-defense: that he fired the lethal pictures out of worry for his personal life throughout chaotic protests that had been sparked by the police shootings of a Black man in Kenosha.

Rittenhouse’s legal professionals might finally determine that placing him on the stand will not be definitely worth the danger, particularly if the trial seems to be shifting in their favor.

Throughout the first week of the trial, they elicited testimony from a number of witnesses supporting their argument that Rosenbaum provoked the teen, a crucial aspect in direction of justifying the usage of lethal power.

The precise variety of felony defendants who take the stand at their trials will not be clear. One research, revealed in the Cornell Legislation Evaluation in 2009 by professors Theodore Eisenberg and Valerie Hans, discovered that in 300 felony trials in 4 counties, about half of defendants testified.

They discovered that 60% of defendants with out felony information testified, in comparison with 45% of these with felony information, which the authors mentioned probably mirrored defendants’ fear that their information can be used to undermine them. About 77% of defendants who testified had been convicted, in comparison with about 72% of those that didn’t.

Although Rittenhouse didn’t have a felony document earlier than the shootings on Aug. 25, 2020, Medwed mentioned assaults on cross-examination might prolong to “any instances where Rittenhouse has lied, or is rumored to have lied.” For that purpose, Medwed mentioned, legal professionals typically counsel their shoppers towards testifying.

Nonetheless, he mentioned, the danger of testifying could be worthwhile as a result of jurors “naturally want to hear the other side,” although a defendant has no authorized obligation to show innocence. Which will apply particularly when a defendant, like Rittenhouse, is asserting self-defense.

“In a self-defense case, it is often extremely hard for the defendant to win without testifying simply because there is no other way for the jurors to learn about the circumstances that led the defendant to think that self-protective force was necessary,” mentioned Michael O’Hear, a professor at Marquette Legislation College.

One other key issue is extra subjective: will the jury just like the defendant?

Don West, certainly one of Zimmerman’s trial legal professionals, mentioned the protection determined they didn’t want Zimmerman’s testimony as a result of forensic proof and statements Zimmerman had made to police had been sufficient to assist his case.

However West additionally mentioned he believed Zimmerman wouldn’t have been handled pretty had he taken the stand.

“He was reviled. He was the most hated man for a long time,” West mentioned. “The focus would have been so intense on him that he wouldn’t have gotten the benefit of any doubt.”

On Feb. 26, 2012, Zimmerman, who was then a neighborhood watch captain in a gated neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, fatally shot Martin after the teen’s journey to a comfort retailer to purchase snacks. The incident helped spark the rise of the Black Lives Matter motion.

Patrick Cafferty, a felony protection lawyer in Wisconsin, mentioned he thinks Rittenhouse will testify. He mentioned he noticed worth in the teen telling the jury straight that he feared for his life.

“I think the reward outweighs the risk,” Cafferty mentioned.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York and Nathan Layne in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Enhancing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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