In the tricky practice of ethics train wreck taxonomy, placing the Rittenhouse trial in the proper category is a challenge. Is the Tale of the Gun-toting Teen its own media bias and activist -fueled social and legal disaster, or is it just an extension of another?
I lean toward assigning this fiasco to the latter category, making it just one more extension of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck, which eventually begat the George Floyd Freakout, which in turn led to the contrived outrage over the police shooting of Jacob Blake that spat out Rittenhouse’s unhelpful improvisation. After all, Martin, Floyd and Blake all were episodes that had nothing to do with race but that were hyped into divisive racial controversies and trials by irresponsible demagogues, protesters, politicians and reporters.
What I especially like about attributing all of this societal wreckage into a single ethics train wreck is that it demonstrates just how disastrous President Obama’s inflammatory comments equating Martin to “his son” were—as Ethics Alarms pointed out at the time. Maybe if the blame is squarely placed at the metaphorical fish head, Presidents will stop shooting off their mouths like that. (President Biden, do recall, falsely called Rittenhouse a white supremacist.)
This is all prelude to pointing out what a projectile vomit debacle yesterday’s closing arguments were. Both the prosecution and the defense stomped all over proper criminal trial practice and professional ethics.
For the prosecution…
- Thomas Binger pointing a real gun at the jury as he is shown above, with his finger on the trigger (now known as the Alec Baldwin technique of gun handling) is probably grounds for a reversal all by itself. It also violates Wisconsin Bar Rules of Professional Conduct 3.5, which prohibits a lawyer from intentionally creating a disruption in a courtroom, as well as Rule 8.4, forbidding conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Of course, prosecutors never get punished for such violations….but they do have their wins reversed for them.
- Binger showed the jury video clips frame by frame, which deceptively made Rittenhouse appear as if his decisions were not made quickly and under great stress. That should have been stopped by the judge.
- He told the jury, “You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun.” Citation, please? That’s a false characterization of the law. Mistrial.
- Binger repeatedly referred to Rittenhouse as “an active shooter.”
- There was more, but the totality of the State’s closing (including the rebuttal after the defense’s summation) was unethical, and deprived Rittenhouse of a fair trial. I have seen reversals and new trials ordered for less.
For the defense:
- Defense attorney Mark Richards referred to Jacob Blake being shot 7 times in the back by police and said the response it had been found to be “OK.” That’s not exactly true: the response was found to not constitute a crime. That doesn’t mean it’s “OK.”
- Richards said of the Rosenbaum shooting: “I’m glad [Kyle] shot him.” That’s improper: the lawyer’s feelings about the acts under consideration aren’t evidence, and should not be presented to the jury.
- Richards argued that Rosenbaum would have taken Rittenhouse’s AR-15 and shot Rittenhouse and others. That’s not fact, it’s not evidence, and it’s improper.
It looks to me as if Judge Schroeder has stacked the deck: he allowed enough improper summation conduct from the State to ensure a reversal if Rittenhouse is convicted, and also allowed sufficient cheats by the defense to make an acquittal more likely. The “beauty part’ is that while the conviction can be appealed, an acquittal, however it is achieved, cannot.
And the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck keeps on rollin’, just like Proud Mary…
…but there’s nothing to be proud of.