Kyle Rittenhouse was found “not guilty” on all five criminal charges, including two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment of safety. Rittenhouse is now protected by the Fifth Amendment’s “double jeopardy” clause; he will not be prosecuted again for these same offenses.
However, the justice system allows for civil liability, even when actors are deemed “not guilty” in a criminal court. The burden of proof civil plaintiffs need to make is much lower than what prosecutors face in criminal proceedings.
In civil court, plaintiffs only need to prove “by a preponderance of evidence,” while in criminal court, prosecutors must face the enormous challenge of proving their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” means 99% or more likelihood of guilt, while a “preponderance of evidence” only means 51% or more likelihood of liability. A civil action would also allow a jury to examine a broader range of evidence than a criminal action.
A famous example is when OJ Simpson was acquitted in his criminal trial, but found “responsible” for the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in a civil action. Simpson was ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars to the families of the deceased, although he has only paid a fraction thus far.
Likewise, a civil jury might find by a “preponderance of the evidence” that Rittenhouse’s unlawful conduct resulted in civil liability, even though he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Civil liability would mean a judgment of monies would be placed on Rittenhouse, that could follow him for the rest of his life.
As an 18-year-old freshman aiming to enter Arizona State University this Fall, Rittenhouse is unlikely to be sitting on a pile of gold. However, given his fame and notoriety, there will be ways for him to cash in soon. In other words, Rittenhouse may have deep pockets soon, meaning those seeking civil damages from Rittenhouse would be able to collect on their judgments.
Supporters have already given more than $2 million for Rittenhouse’s legal defense. He has proven to be a formidable fundraiser, which was highlighted in his ability to gather funds to pay for his $2 million bail and costly criminal defense. It is almost certain that he would be able to raise funds to pay for a top-notch civil defense trial and appellate team, to drag the case out and wear down his opponents before they can even have sight of a money judgment.
Nevertheless, even if civil claimants are unable to collect on a civil judgement against Rittenhouse, a judgment of any kind would be of emotional and psychological value to the families of the victims.
Moreover, it is likely that the federal government will investigate to determine whether any criminal civil rights violations occurred. Time will tell what the future holds for Kyle Rittenhouse.