Judge dismisses gun charge against Kyle Rittenhouse

Screenshot from video below


Christy Gutowski and Stacy St. Clair

Chicago Tribune

KENOSHA, WIS. — A Kenosha County judge handed a huge win to Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense team before closing arguments when he dismissed a misdemeanor gun charge against the teen.

Legal experts had considered the misdemeanor gun charge — which carries up to 12 months in jail — to be the easiest charge for the state to prove.

Ahead of Monday’s closing arguments, Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled Wisconsin’s open carry law is so confusingly written it can be interpreted to mean 17-year-olds can openly carry firearms as long as they’re not short-barrel rifles. He believed the jury could only convict if prosecutors proved the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle was less than 16 inches and has an overall length shorter than 26 inches.

The AR-15-style rifle Rittenhouse used to fatally shoot two men and injure a third is 35 inches long with a barrel length of 16 inches. Under defense questioning, a Kenosha police detective said he believed the Smith & Wesson M & P 15 was standard size.

The judge’s decision stunned prosecutors, who argued his interpretation of the law does not make sense. Under the judge’s interpretation, it would be illegal for a 17-year-old to carry brass knuckles in Wisconsin but permissible to carry a semi-automatic rifle.

“There’s no ambiguity,” assistant district attorney James Kraus told the judge Friday. “It is very clear that (17-year olds) are not to possess dangerous weapons.”

The state law says “any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.” It defines a dangerous weapon as any “firearm, loaded or unloaded,” as well as metallic knucks, nunchaku, pointed stars and other items.

Rittenhouse’s defense team, however, successfully argued that there was a loophole in the law that says the misdemeanor only applies to 17-year-olds carrying short-barrel rifles. Carrying a short-barrel rifle at any age in Wisconsin is a felony, with exceptions for active military and police officers.

Schroeder acknowledged the statute was confusing, likening it to the infamous Roman Emperor Caligula’s posting new laws high upon a column so his citizens could not study them.

“I‘m still trying to figure out what it says, what is prohibited,” Schroeder said Friday before making his final decision. “Now I have the good fortune of having some experience and a legal education. How is your ordinary citizen supposed to acquaint herself with what this law says?”

In a memorandum issued in 2018, the Wisconsin Legislative Council — a government-supported, nonpartisan legislative service agency — shared the prosecution’s understanding of the open carry law and made no mention of the loophole in its summary of the state’s firearm regulations.

“Under Wisconsin law, with certain exceptions for hunting, military service, and target practice, a person under age 18 is generally prohibited from possessing or going armed with a firearm,” the memorandum states.

In August 2020, Rittenhouse — a 17-year-old from north suburban Antioch — volunteered to patrol downtown Kenosha amid turmoil surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Carrying the rifle that police say a friend illegally purchased for him, Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming he fired his weapon in self-defense.

A Kenosha County jury is expect to begin deliberating in the case late Monday afternoon.

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