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NJ Defense Lawyers Talk Gun Laws, Self-Defense in Wake of Rittenhouse Verdict

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Assault weapons are banned in NJ, self defense is held to a more objective standard, and money played a big part in the Rittenhouse defense, the lawyers say

The case of Kyle Rittenhouse brings up issues of gun laws, vigilantes, and self-defense in criminal cases.

Criminal defense lawyers in New Jersey say the self-defense laws here are not that different from Wisconsin’s -- but the gun laws sure are, said defense lawyer Blair Zwillman of Morristown.

“You cannot even legally possess an assault firearm in New Jersey in a locked cabinet in your home, even if you purchased it legally in another state,” he said. “Not only that, if you’re found guilty of it there’s a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 ½ years without parole.”

Zwillman said the financing behind Rittenhouse’s defense allowed his team to hold practice trials.

“They had two mock jury trials where they actually presented him as a witness in one of them, and tried to determine whether their likelihood of success in a trial would be better if he testified or not,” said Zwillman, adding that “99.5 percent of criminal defendants would not have the resources to do that.”

Prosecutors in the trial argued that Rittenhouse should not have been allowed to claim self-defense in a situation that he helped create by going to a violent protest openly carrying an assault weapon. The jury was not persuaded.

New Jersey defense lawyer James Porfido outlined the self-defense laws here.

“The duty to retreat unless you are in your home, you can’t use excessive force, or keep using that force after the threat has been subdued,” said Porfido.

He also emphasized the well-financed defense of Rittenhouse, which allowed his team to use a jury consultant to help assemble the jurors.