“THE ENDS MUST JUSTIFY MY FEELINGS”
Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty of two murders that he was accused of committing and many people are aghast at the findings of the jury. What were they thinking? How corrupt are they? It was so very obvious that the 17-year-old was a maniacal terrorist who ventured across state lines, armed with the intent to commit cold-blooded murder. He mercilessly started shooting peaceful protesters. And he was found not guilty?
So, what were the jurors thinking?
Apparently, they were thinking about the parameters of the law and their legally-assigned responsibilities.
Aristotle famously said that “The law is reason, free from passion.”
That quote, once used in the movie Legally Blonde, has always intrigued me because it is, or should be, true.
Facts and reason are what matters. Suspicions, beliefs, rapidly-growing myths, political agendas, and certainly emotions matter not. Facts and how they apply to the strict parameters of the law are what’s important.
The public doesn’t understand this and that’s no surprise. The law and what constitutes a violation of one is complex, intricate and multifaceted. The rules concerning how to prosecute a crime, grasping the complexity of due process and defining reasonable doubt isn’t something that the average person actually ever thinks about. Why would they?
Suffice it to say, dispassionate reason and pertinent facts are all that really matter to those in the justice profession, especially when it comes to charges being filed and courtroom parameters.
Beliefs, feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams, and certainly social justice activism and politics have no place in any of the process.
It’s All Elementary
It was in the police academy where I first encountered the reality of actual laws and I found myself fascinated—seriously fascinated—by the nuances and intricacies of what constitutes a law and what it takes to prove that someone committed a criminal act. One of the things that sticks out in my mind was the significant difference between the words “and” and “or” found in various statutes.
Who the instructor was is lost to me, though I remember he had an Irish last name and was a Chicago lawyer with tons of trial experience. The most important thing he tried to get across was that if a person does not violate the necessary elements of an offense, then a crime was not committed.
In my career this was an incontrovertible fact. The elements of the specific offense had to be present and provable or you aren’t going to be able to charge a person, no matter what you believed or felt.
As a Commander of Investigations for my department while also serving as the Commander of Investigations for our county’s Major Crimes Task Force, I had many contentious conversations with really talented detectives. Conversations that involved being on the receiving end of angry diatribes laced with profane phraseology born by frustration.
“Why won’t they (the State’s Attorney’s Office) let me file the charge? This guy obviously did it!”
I understood their frustration all too well. These people had duties. They were assigned to figure out not just who committed crimes—at times very heinous crimes—but also to deal with the victims and/or the victims’ families. They very often became emotionally invested in the outcome…an outcome they felt very responsible for.
They also, however, had to have the ability to present a prosecutable case to the office of the State’s Attorney, which demanded that the specific and necessary elements of the desired charge were backed up by facts that were provable in court. Damn their emotional entanglement and beliefs. Did they have the facts?
Prosecutors in DuPage County, Illinois—who were and I still think are the best in the entire state—wanted to put bad guys in jail. They truly wanted to keep the community safe. They assisted the police whenever they could, they guided and explained issues they would face in court. In most cases we had a great relationship with them. Still the elements of the offense had to be provable and no matter how close we were and how bad both sides wanted to file charges, if the elements weren’t there, then there was no case.
Rittenhouse: Facts, Facts and More Facts
The criminal justice system is in a state of flux right now. Many believe that the not guilty verdict in this Kenosha, Wisconsin case is an indication that it is broken. They see the verdict as an obvious mistake on the part of the jury and suspect it represents downright corruption on the part of the entire system.
I agree, in part.
The system is, in many ways, broken. In this case, however, the outcome of the criminal case against 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse isn’t an example of that brokenness. The elements of the offenses and the facts of the case very early on didn’t seem to add up to crimes being committed. At least not on the part of Kyle Rittenhouse.
So why do I address it here? Because facts matter. Morals and ethics matter. If the system ignores all of those, then the system will completely crash.
I’ll amend Aristotle’s quote a bit: “The law should be reason, free from emotion, feelings and political agendas.”
I read the actual Wisconsin laws that the then 17-year-old Illinois resident was purported to have committed. I examined the elements.
Then I looked at the case evidence presented. Listened to much of the testimony. Paid attention to the decisions and game plan of the prosecutors. I read the facts related to the hype that spurred on the emotional angst.
It was quickly apparent that the facts and the elements for a conviction of the crimes he was charged with were obviously lacking. They just weren’t there. Even most of the ancillary hype about what led to the ultimate confrontations and reasons for the charges being filed weren’t accurate.
As someone experienced in this area, I was…and I’m trying to measure my next word here… astonished that the case was approved for prosecution.
From the perspective of anyone who has investigated a murder and constructed a case for prosecution it was, to say the least, puzzling. That’s not just my take, but the take of several experienced homicide investigators with whom I spoke. One of them who has overseen more than 500 homicides told me it was mindboggling that it ever saw the inside of a courtroom.
“I watched more than I care to admit. I looked up the facts. As the case went on, from a professional and legal standpoint, it was embarrassing.”
So, what happened and how does it impact the profession of law enforcement?
How this Case Further Negatively Impacts the Profession
Law enforcement in my lifetime has never had a harder time attracting and keeping qualified police officers. One of the main reasons is that those in the profession won’t advocate for joining. Why? The reasons are certainly complex but part of it involves officers having lost faith in the system and the system’s leaders.
I travel the country constantly and the conversations I have with the thousands of officers I talk to have quickly shifted over the last 18 months. Now, each and every conversation I have involves the politicizing of the criminal justice system and how activism has infiltrated what should be a structure based on reason and not passion.
Bottom line—and this is supported by polls Calibre Press has conducted—police officers no longer trust the moral compass of those who run our governmental systems. They see those in power ignoring facts and reacting to emotion.
This Kenosha case is a very obvious case in point. Facts are still being ignored and the system is still being corrupted by those who should know better.
I had no skin in this game whatsoever. Whether Kyle Rittenhouse was convicted or not mattered nothing to me on a personal level. But I have an annoying habit when talking to family and friends who offer opinions of constantly asking them, “Well, what are the facts?”
100% of the time I don’t hear any. 100% of the time! What I get are beliefs, feelings, and baseless bumbling from the echo chambers of others of like mind.
Still, they are entitled to their personal opinions, even if they are factually indefensible.
But when it comes to the media and politicians who hold sway and determine direction for the profession, as well as this country, wouldn’t they need to stick to facts? Way too many heads of governments; Mayors, Governors, etc., continued to push dangerous narratives and obvious untruths about this case within moments of the jury’s verdict.
This isn’t just a disservice to Rittenhouse, the judge and the jury, it is a disservice to the entire criminal justice system of the United States. A system that is, while certainly not perfect, the best ever conceived by human beings.
These are people who, for the most part, are lawyers and who as elected officials took oaths that included promises to uphold the Constitution and our national and state laws!
In the basic police academies recruits learn about the legal system. The importance of things like due process, elements of offenses, innocent until proven guilty, reasonable doubt, etc. They examine how particular the laws are and how to present cases in real time in real life within the parameters of both criminal statutes and established case law.
In the last few days, elected and prominent politicians are literally telling them to ignore all of that while conveying to others that the system is irreparably broken…and they’re fanning some very dangerous and volatile flames in the process.
Are any of them—as this country experiences massive spikes in violent crimes, homicides and gang-related larceny—aware of what their words will mean for public safety?
One more thing. If the public officials are allowed to use untruths and unethical processes, what are they expecting from the police?
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