What the Rittenhouse Case in Wisconsin Can Teach Floridians About Affirmative Defenses, Burdens of Proof, and Criminal Trials in This State

Many people across the country were riveted these past few weeks by the homicide trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Many people were happy with the outcome; many more were profoundly disappointed. Regardless of one’s feelings about the trial’s result, there are certain things that we can all learn from the trial and why the jury decided as they did. Although the Tampa Bay area is 1,200+ miles from Kenosha and Wisconsin’s laws are not Florida’s, one thing that is nearly universal is how important the right defense strategy can be. That’s why, if you or a loved one is on trial or potentially facing charges here, it pays to have a knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney on your side.

For those unfamiliar with the background events, Kyle Rittenhouse was a teen who lived 20 miles south of Kenosha and who traveled to the city on August 25, 2021, after a series of protests the day before had included arson, vandalism, and property damage. (The protests had begun after local police shot and paralyzed a Black man.)

During the night of August 25, Rittenhouse was involved in a pair of confrontations with protestors. During those confrontations, Rittenhouse shot at four men, hitting three and killing two.

The state charged the teen with first-degree intentional homicide. The defense’s case was that the teen fired in self-defense.

How Self-Defense Works at Trial

In a criminal trial — whether you’re in Wisconsin or Florida — the law says that the burden of proof falls upon the prosecutor. The prosecutor is obliged to establish each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the collateral impacts of that standard is felt when a defendant asserts the affirmative defense of self-defense. When that happens, two things follow. First, the defense has to give the court enough to allow the court to conclude that the defendant has an arguable case for self-defense. Assuming the defendant clears that hurdle, the burden shifts back to the prosecutor because, as noted above, the prosecution generally has the burden of proof on each piece of the case.

What that means, in practice, is that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime and also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.

So, if a Florida jury is deciding a case where the defendant has asserted an affirmative defense, and the jury thinks that the prosecution proved all of the elements of the crime and also thinks that the defendant likely didn’t have a legitimate defense for doing what he did, that jury must still return a verdict of “not guilty.” If they can only conclude that the defense more likely than not wasn’t valid, then that means that the prosecution did not disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt and, when that happens, the defendant is not guilty.

Even given these rules for burdens of proof, mounting a successful defense in a criminal case is the furthest thing from easy. You must know how to give the court what is required to establish the validity of your defense initially. After that, you still have to persuade the jury that the state did not prove their case or did not disprove your defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Doing these things often requires a great deal of experience and skill. If you are facing charges or potentially facing charges, don’t leave your freedom and future to chance. Count on the Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. to give you the strongest defense under the law. We have helped countless accused men and women from around Tampa Bay to get justice. Reach out to us as soon as possible so that we can get to work for you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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