The trial of former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the death of George Floyd, was set to begin on March 8. Floyd, a Black man, was killed in South Minneapolis after Chauvin kneeled on the back of his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. A video recording of Floyd’s death received international attention, sparking protests and riots in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, across the country and the world. Chauvin was charged with Floyd’s murder, alongside three other officers: Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Kiernan Lane, who were also present during Floyd’s death. As the world watches to see if George Floyd will finally receive justice, here are six things you should know about Chauvin’s upcoming trial.
- On March 5, an Appeals Court ruled that Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill should reconsider his decision to not include a third-degree murder charge after Chauvin’s charges originally included third-degree murder. On March 8, hours after jury proceedings had begun, it was paused until March 9, at the earliest, as prosecutors wait for a response on whether jury selection can continue, given the possible additional murder charge. Additionally, Chauvin’s lawyers have petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court decision. The impact that an additional charge might have on the trial timeline is still unknown, as is whether or not the Minnesota Supreme Court will take up the appeal, though Judge Peter Cahill and both prosecutors and defense lawyers are expecting to hear more by March 9. An additional third-degree murder charge may cause the trial to be delayed as Chauvin’s lawyers prepare additional arguments or prepare to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
- Chauvin is currently charged with both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Second-degree murder is “unintentional” murder that does not include a separate felony conviction. Put simply, second-degree murder is a murder that was not planned. If charged with second-degree murder, a felony, Chauvin could be jailed for up to 40 years. Second-degree manslaughter is murder due to negligence or “unreasonable risk.” If charged with second-degree manslaughter, also a felony, Chauvin could be jailed for up to ten years and/or receive a fine of no more than $20,000. According to ABC News, a potential third-degree murder charge “requires proof that someone’s conduct was ‘eminently dangerous to others’, plural, not just to Floyd.”
- The trial is expected to take nine weeks from the beginning of jury selection through the jury’s decision. Jury selection began March 8, and has been delayed, dependent on the addition of a possible third-degree murder charge. Potential jurors have been presented with a 14-page questionnaire on policing experiences, race, martial arts and other issues. The jury will be semi-sequestered and include 12 jurors and four alternate jurors. The entire jury would need to agree on a guilty verdict for Chauvin to be convicted. According to Professor David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and a Hamline University political science professor, in a document emailed to reporters, the prosecution’s evidence includes the video, Chauvin’s police training and training manual, Chauvin’s police record, the autopsy, on-site witnesses, and expert witnesses. The defense reportedly will use police body camera footage, an autopsy, and expert witnesses.
Photo: JD Duggan
- The trial will be streamed live via CourtTV. This is a first for Minnesota, but is being allowed by the trial judge in an effort to respond to both community attention and the COVID-19 pandemic. CourtTV will stream the proceedings each day, up to fourteen hours a day, from 9am — 11pm CST. Additionally, only one member of Chauvin and Floyd’s respective families will be allowed in the courtroom each day.
- The City of Minneapolis has been working on “Operation: Safety Net” since July 2020.The operation is a phased response to community anger meant to be implemented before, during, and after the trial. The purpose is to preserve “peaceful protest” and to prevent “large-scale civil disturbances.” Operation: Safety Net includes nine law enforcement agencies including: Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Minnesota National Guard, Minneapolis Police Department, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, Metro Transit, Minnesota State Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies. Today, government buildings are surrounded by fencing and National Guard members are visible across downtown Minneapolis. Businesses in the area have expressed concern about the possibility of new riots, and community leaders have expressed concern about the “militarization” of Minneapolis.
- If Chauvin were to be acquitted, the other three officers, Lane, Kueng and Thao, who were on the scene during Floyd’s murder will likely have their charges dismissed. They are currently charged with “aiding and abetting second-degree murder” as well as “ aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter,” which are both felony accounts. Those trials are scheduled for August 2021. In recent years, only one Minneapolis police officer has been convicted of murder. Former MPD Officer Mohamed Noor, a Black Somali man, was charged with the third-degree murder and manslaughter of Justine Damond, an affluent white woman from Australia, residing in Minneapolis.
Dr. Cirien Saadeh is an Arab-American journalist and educator who works at the intersections of journalism, social movements, experiential education, and sustainability. She is the producer and host for the Radical News Radio Hour for WFNU; the Executive Director for The UpTake — a community news organization; and Associate Faculty at Prescott College where she received her Ph.D. in Sustainability Education in 2019. You can learn more about her work at www.journalismofcolor.com.