17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse still is facing two counts of murder as well as an attempted murder charge in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but the 19-year old friend who supplied the rifle that Rittenhouse carried with him on the night of August 25th is now facing criminal charges of his own.
Dominick Black is due in court today on two counts of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 causing death, which is a felony punishable by up to six years in state prison.
Prosecutors say Dominick Black purchased the weapon from the Ladysmith Ace Home Center using money he received from 17-year-old Rittenhouse. Police say Black bought the weapon for Rittenhouse because he wasn’t 18-years-old yet and couldn’t do it himself.
Black and Rittenhouse agreed that the rifle would be stored at Black’s stepdad’s house since Rittenhouse did not have an Illinois Firearm Owner Identification card, according to the criminal complaint. Black’s stepdad lives in Kenosha.
According to the criminal complaint, on Aug. 25, Rittenhouse and Black volunteered to protect the Car Source located on Sheridan Road. The two met at Black’s stepdad’s house where Black gave Rittenhouse the gun he had purchased, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle.
A few hours later, Rittenhouse had the rifle in hand as he was chased down a Kenosha street by a crowd led by Joseph Rosenbaum. Just a second or so after a member of the mob fired a round from a handgun into the air, Rosenbaum cornered Rittenhouse. The teenager fired as Rosenbaum was reaching for the gun, striking and killing the 36-year old. Rittenhouse then continued running, this time towards police officers, but was overtaken by the crowd and stumbled to the ground. As 26-year old Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse with a skateboard, Rittenhouse fired again, mortally wounding Huber.
Another member of the mob, Gaige Grosskreutz, then approached Rittenhouse with a pistol in his hand, and the 17-year old fired again, this time striking the stranger in the arm. Rittenhouse got up and continued to walk towards police, who failed to take him into custody at the scene, allowing him to return to his home in Illinois.
I continue to believe that Kyle Rittenhouse has a very strong self-defense case, but Dominick Black’s charges may be more difficult to overcome. According to prosecutors, Rittenhouse gave Black the money to purchase the AR-15 back in early May (months before the riots in Kenosha) because he wasn’t old enough to buy the rifle himself. If Black truly did buy the rifle for Rittenhouse, that would constitute a straw purchase, which is a felony offense under both state and federal law.
Interestingly, though, Black isn’t charged with violating the state’s straw purchase law. Instead he’s charged with giving a dangerous weapon to someone under the age of 18. Rittenhouse is also facing a charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, though several attorneys in Wisconsin have suggested that the charge could be difficult to prosecute.
Under Wisconsin statutes that say anyone under 18 who “goes armed” with any deadly weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, was not old enough to legally carry the assault-style rifle he had.
But John Monroe, a lawyer who specializes in gun rights cases, believes an exception for rifles and shotguns, intended to allow people age 16 and 17 to hunt, could apply.
Tom Grieve, a Milwaukee defense lawyer who also specializes in gun cases, agreed the exception might apply beyond hunting, but said that part of the law is poorly drafted. He said he would argue to apply a rule of law that interprets ambiguous criminal statutes in favor of the defendant.
Even if Rittenhouse is ultimately found to have been carrying the rifle illegally, that doesn’t automatically mean that he couldn’t have been acting in self-defense when he used it. Wisconsin state statutes preclude anyone “engaged in a criminal activity” from acting in self-defense, but as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh pointed out earlier this year, courts in other states like Indiana have held that “there must be an immediate causal connection between the crime and the confrontation.”
Rittenhouse isn’t alleged to have been carrying the rifle in order to commit a crime. Instead, he says his goal was to protect people and property from looters, and eyewitnesses report that Rittenhouse was simply walking down the street when Joseph Rosenbaum began running after him with others quickly joining in the chase. Kyle Rittenhouse’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for December 3rd, and that will be the first real chance for his defense attorneys to try to poke holes in the prosecution’s case while laying out their own arguments in favor of the 17-year old’s right of self-defense.