Derek Chauvin trial judge reinstated third-degree murder charge that could see ex-cop jailed for 12 years –
Ruling that will infuriate BLM supporters who don’t want such a ‘lenient’ sentence on the table, but charge seen by many to represent prosecution’s best chance of securing murder conviction against Chauvin
Chauvin was indicted for second-degree murder and manslaughter that has a miximum penalty of 40 years in prison
Conviction for third-degree murder carries maximum penalty of 25 years; Chauvin would likely get 12.5 years, while conviction for manslaughter would likely result in a four-year sentence for Chauvin, who has no criminal past
Chauvin is a white cop seen kneeling on neck of black man, George Floyd, 46, during arrest in Minneapolis on May 25, Floyd is seen in video saying he could not breathe, still Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes
Floyd was pronounced dead at the scene and his death triggered nationwide outrage and protests last spring Chauvin’s attorney will argue Floyd’s death due to methamphetamines and opioids found in his system
Jury selection proceeded swiftly in first three days – five members of the pool have been impaneled,
The fifth pick, the first black juror, said ‘black lives matter more because they’re marginalized’
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will face third degree murder charges in a stunning reversal of Hennepin County District Court’s decision to remove the charge from his rap sheet last October.
Judge Peter Cahill heard arguments from both prosecution and defense on the matter first thing on Thursday morning after the Minesota Supreme Court kicked back a defense appeal to override a Court of Appeal’s ruling that he had erred in his earlier decision.
The unexpected decision for the defense team is a huge blow to Chauvin.
The charge is seen by many to represent the prosecution’s best chance of securing a murder conviction in the trial of the 46-year-old former Minneapolis Metropolitan Police sergeant for the killing of George Floyd, in May, 2020.
If Chauvin is convicted of third-degree murder, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years, though sentencing guidelines state that someone who does not have a criminal record would be sentenced to half of that maximum [twelve and half years], behind bars. The ex-lawman does have a criminal record.
In a pre-emptive move, Black Lives Matter supporters said earlier this week that a dozen years in jail for Chauvin would be insufficient and likely trigger outrage, protests, and even violence.
A leak last month revealed that Chauvin had agreed to plead guilty to the charge in a plea-deal that later fell apart when it was rejected by the then Attorney General William Barr.
Chauvin was previously charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, though state sentencing guidelines still would have seen him receiving a shortened sentence of twellve and half years since he does not have a criminal record.
Derek Chauvin is the police officer seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, during a botched arrest. EMTs transported a lifeless Floyd from the scene.
Shortly afterward, Floyd was pronounced dead at an area hospital. Chauvin, 46, faces the prospect of decades in prison if he is convicted of second-degree murder or third-degree murder.
A conviction for second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison – though guidelines would have him incarcerated for just four years.
Prosecutors feared Chauvin will escape the murder charge and will only be convicted of manslaughter, so they wanted third-degree murder added as an option for the jury.
Judge Cahill had initially excluded the charge because he did not agree that third degree murder could be applied to an action affecting only a single person. Instead he took the view it could only be applied to ‘depraved…dangerous behavior’ that put multiple people at risk.
He had rejected the State’s contention that a recent Court of Appeal’s ruling upholding a third degree murder conviction against Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, could be taken as precendent as that judgment had not been entered when he made his own ruling.
Noor was convicted for the fatal shooting of Justine Rusczyk Diamond in 2017.
Cahill on Thursday accepted that Wednesday’s state Supreme Court ruling, kicking the issue back to his court, confirmed the Noor decision as a precedential opinion.
‘I’m not that incorrigible that I would disagree with the Court of Appeals and their motions,’ Cahill said while making his ruling.
An Appeal Court decision on the State’s request to halt jury selection until the matter is resolved is still pending.
Five jurors have been seated after just two days of screening by attorneys and Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, who had set aside at least three weeks to fill the panel.
Attorneys have given considerable attention to the jury pool’s attitudes toward police in the first two days of questioning, trying to determine whether they’re more inclined to believe testimony from law enforcement over evidence from other witnesses to the fatal confrontation.
On Wednesday, the first black member of the jury was seated after telling the court he once lived in the same area where Floyd died, adding: ‘It could have been me.’ Prosecutors eventually decided to dismiss the juror after he said he feared a pro-BLM mob would come after his wife and children if they learned he served on the jury.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the black man’s neck for about nine minutes.
Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
Chauvin and three other officers who answered the call, Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Kiernan Lane, were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges.
The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the black man’s neck for about nine minutes. His death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race. The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.
Chauvin and three other officers who answered the call, Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Kiernan Lane, were fired. All three former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Their trial is scheduled for August.
Prosecutors want to add charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against them, but that question will be resolved later.
It should be noted that Derek Chauvin’s trial may be delayed until the outcome of an appeal by another former Minneapolis police officer is known.
Former MMPD officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder in the 2017 fatal shooting of an Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.
His lawyers have launched an appeal because they say third-degree murder applies only when a defendant’s actions put multiple people at risk.
Chauvin’s attorneys will likely argue the same thing since he brought no harm to other bystanders and was not ’eminently dangerous to others.’
If the Supreme Court were to overturn Noor’s third-degree murder conviction, Chauvin’s charge could also be dismissed.
On July 15, 2017, Justine Damond called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.
Officers Matthew Harrity and Noor responded and, finding nothing, they prepared to leave when Harrity is startled by a loud noise near the squad car.
Noor, in the passenger seat, shoots past Harrity, striking Damond through the driver’s side window.
At trial, the jury convicted Noor of third-degree murder and manslaughter, and acquitted him on the more serious charge of second-degree intentional murder.
Noor filed a petition last month asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn his conviction in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, after a Court of Appeals panel upheld the jury’s decision.
The state’s highest court granted the petition just days later and agreed to hear the case in June.
Legal analysts said that it normally takes months for the Supreme Court to hear a case, but the expedited decision was made in light of the implications for the Chauvin case.
Some legal experts say the third-degree murder charge applies only when a defendant’s actions put multiple people at risk, but the appellate panel said it can apply when a defendant’s actions are directed at one person.
The judge in Chauvin’s case had dismissed a third-degree murder count last October, saying it didn’t apply because Chauvin’s actions were directed at Floyd alone.
But prosecutors are seeking to have it reinstated, saying the appellate decision shows the third-degree murder count can apply to Chauvin as well.
Noor claims his actions only targeted a single individual and did not harm anyone else except Damond.
His lawyer claims that since Noor’s actions only harmed a single individual, the third-degree murder charge clause, ‘an act eminently dangerous to others,’ would not apply in his case.
Chauvin’s attorneys makes the same arguement, that since Chauvin brought no harm to any other bystanders he was not ’eminently dangerous to others.’
If the Supreme Court were to overturn Noor’s third-degree murder conviction, Chauvin’s charge would also remain dismissed.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week ordered Judge Peter Cahill in the Chauvin case, to reconsider adding a third-degree murder charge against the defendant. A three-judge panel said the Hennepin County district judge Cahill erred last fall when he rejected a prosecution motion to reinstate the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin.
The panel said Cahill should have followed the precedent set by the appeals court last month when it affirmed Noor’s third-degree murder conviction.
The appeals court sent the case back to Cahill for a ruling consistent with its ruling in the Noor case, giving the judge some leeway to consider other arguments that the defense might make against reinstating the charge.
‘This court’s precedential opinion in Noor became binding authority on the date it was filed. The district court therefore erred by concluding that it was not bound by the principles of law set forth in Noor and by denying the state’s motion to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder on that basis,’ the appeals court wrote.
Chauvin has the option of appealing the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which would force Cahill to delay the trial, but if he decides not to appeal, the Judge Cahill most likely, was going to reinstate the third-degree charge.
A ruling that could increase the prosecution’s odds of getting a murder conviction.
In October Cahill ruled that third-degree murder under Minnesota law requires proof that someone’s conduct was ’eminently dangerous to others,’ plural, not just to Floyd.
Cahill said there was no evidence that Chauvin endangered anyone else and threw out the charge.
But the Court of Appeals rejected similar legal reasoning in Noor’s case, ruling that a third-degree murder conviction can be sustained even if the action that caused a victim’s death was directed at just one person.
The appeals court rejected the argument by Chauvin’s attorney that the Noor ruling shouldn’t have the force of law unless and until it’s affirmed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in Noor’s appeal in June.
Cahill used similar reasoning last month when he rejected the state’s initial motion to restore the third-degree murder count, prompting prosecutors to ask the Court of Appeals to intervene.