Police brutality, particularly when it comes to systemic racism, has plagued America for years. It seems, however, that justice might be imminent. Will Derek Chauvin be convicted for the murder of George Floyd? Read this article to find out.
On the 25th of May 2020, four police officers were alerted to a man, George Floyd, who had used a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis. They arrested him and pinned him to the ground at which point one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck. For the next nine minutes and 29 seconds, Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck despite exclamations from Floyd that he couldn’t breathe and shouts from onlookers about the fact that Floyd was dying. When Chauvin finally released his knee, Floyd had died at the scene. This action of police brutality triggered the worldwide Black Lives Matter protest, meaning that Floyd’s presence lived on long beyond his death.
Almost a year after Floyd’s death, Chauvin is on trial for second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. If he is convicted on any of these charges, Chauvin will inevitably face a long time in jail. The court case is concluding, with jury deliberations starting today after closing arguments were delivered by the prosecution and the defence. A jury of 12 has been selected by the Hennepin County Judicial office and potential jurors were thoroughly vetted. Jurors expressed their opinions on the police and racism, as well as how much they knew about the incident, in the selection process. The 12 jurors selected cover a wide variety of races and genders and, as per the Hennepin County Judicial office, will be neutral in their decision in the Chauvin trial. While the jurors have had their identities concealed, it is important that we review the contents of this trial and understand what a possible conclusion could be.
As with all court trials, the prosecutors began by delivering all evidence they deemed necessary, after which witnesses were interrogated by the prosecution and then cross-investigated by the defence. After this, the defence undergoes a similar process, presenting all evidence and witnesses they feel will help their case, with the prosecution also given the opportunity to cross-interrogate. The 5th amendment of the US constitution gives the accused an opportunity to testify if they want to, and then closing arguments are delivered. Finally, the jury enters the deliberation process and concludes the case.
In order to make a guess at how the Chauvin trial will end, we need to follow these steps of a criminal trial and compare the viewpoints. The prosecution had an obvious viewpoint: trying to prove that Chauvin is predominantly responsible for the death of Floyd. The first key testimony for the prosecution was that of the 911 dispatcher who decided to send an ambulance for Floyd. She said that the situation she was hearing about justified medical care as Chauvin was killing Floyd. MMA fighter Donald Williams also provided a key testimony for the prosecution as he was an eyewitness to the scene; he was able to explain the effects of Chauvin on Floyd’s livelihood- long story short, he impacted it greatly. Darnella Frazier filmed the incident which later went viral, and she testified of the guilt she feels for not doing more. Even her nine-year-old cousin was able to identify that Chauvin was in the wrong as a witness of the scene. The theme of guilt was prevalent in the prosecution, including by the cashier who reported the $20 counterfeit bill, saying he regrets reporting him as it could have saved his life. Charles McMillian, who did everything he could, also struggles to accept Floyd’s death as a witness. Floyd’s girlfriend emotionally testified in the prosecution, acknowledging Floyd’s struggle with Covid-19 and drugs but insisting the situation was under control and didn’t affect his condition when Chauvin kneeled on him. The prosecution’s most powerful testimonies, however, came when Chauvin’s colleagues declared that he was in the wrong. Chauvin’s supervisor David Ploeger said that the restraint should have been removed when Floyd became unresponsive and, therefore, Chauvin was breaking the police code of conduct. Minneapolis’ police chief went further, saying that neck restraints should never be used by the police, especially if the criminal is handcuffed. Minneapolis Police sergeant Yang also testified that if the criminal needs medical help it should be provided. On the question of the officers’ safety, LAPD sergeant Stiger said Floyd posed no threat of harm to the officers. Professor Stoughton agreed with the officers, saying neck restraints should be limited to handcuffing a criminal and should be removed within a short time period. The claims of police officers were seconded repeatedly in the prosecution by medical experts and forensic pathologists. Dr Langenfeld said that Floyd’s chance of survival reduced drastically as CPR wasn’t performed. Dr Tobin, a physician in the field of pulmonology, said that he died of a low level of oxygen, almost certainly caused by Chauvin’s position on his neck; Dr Smock, also an expert in the field, agreed with Dr Tobin’s points. Medical experts in more specific fields became relevant in understanding the real cause of Floyd’s death. Lindsey Thomas said that the death was a homicide, Dr Baker said autopsy results showed no implications of heart disease on his death - this was supported by cardiologist Jonathan Rich. The prosecution came to an emotional end when Floyd’s brother, Philonise, showed the trauma his family has gone through as a result of Floyd’s death.
The evidence of the prosecution was plentiful and may make it seem as though it was a certain murder on Chauvin’s part, but the defence still needed to make their argument. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, led with saying that the defence would focus on Floyd’s pre-existing conditions, the threat posed by Floyd to officers and the pressure from onlookers. The defence’s testimony began with Officer Chang saying that there was a large threat to officers due to aggressive bystanders. Chauvin’s use-of-force expert said that the force was necessary as Floyd was resting arrest (regardless of if it was to escape the restraint). He said that if Floyd was ‘resting comfortably’, Chauvin wouldn’t have needed to use force. There were few more big testimonies in the case of the defence, but they felt they did enough as they rested their case after a few days of testimonies. The 5th amendment of the constitution gives all Americans the right to testify in court when criminally tried, as seen above, but in this instance, Chauvin chose to not testify. The law states that this can’t be used against him in the prosecution’s closing argument, so his decision not to testify will play no role in jury deliberations.
This brings us up to now as closing arguments, along with jury deliberations, begin. At the end of the day, we can’t truly predict how the jury will go. Nevertheless, the trends of the trial could give some hints on how Chauvin will end up. He has been charged on counts of 2nd and 3rd degree murder (the former being unintentional) as well as 2nd degree manslaughter. Below, I have stated whether I feel Chauvin will be convicted or acquitted on these three charges.
2nd Degree Unintentional Murder: Defined as ‘unintentional murder that lacks premeditation’. I predict that Chauvin will be convicted on this charge. This murder was unintentional and not premeditated on Chauvin’s part, yet the evidence makes clear his actions caused Floyd’s death.
3rd Degree Murder: Defined as ‘unintentional murder when committing a dangerous act’. I predict that Chauvin will be convicted on this charge. Chauvin was doing something incredibly dangerous at the incident, as evidenced by the testimonies regarding the conduct of police officers. The murder of Floyd fits with the definition- unintentional while committing a dangerous act.
2nd Degree Manslaughter: Defined as ‘taking an unreasonable risk with a person’s life’. I predict that Chauvin will be convicted on this charge. Chauvin took an unreasonable risk and both the testimonies of officers and medical experts show that a neck restraint is unreasonable. Simultaneously, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that applying force on the neck will block airways and risk a person’s life.
While you may think that I am naïve for convicting Chauvin on all three charges, the evidence has truly shown him guilty on these accounts. Also, remember that the jury was impartially selected and had no previous relation to Chauvin or the defence, as well as Floyd or the prosecution. As a result, I feel it is safe to assume that the trial will look at the evidence and come to an appropriate conclusion, in this instance conviction on all three accounts.
If this is the case, Chauvin could be sentenced to up to 65 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. While it is unlikely the punishment will be this extreme, it truly shows the impact Chauvin’s actions have had on society. Chauvin is 45, meaning a 65-year incarceration could have him in jail until he is 110, theoretically making this a life sentence. Also, the average police officer in Minnesota makes $68,000 a year, so this fine would put the Chauvin family in a negative spot financially.
The Chauvin trial will continue over the next few days and we can expect to have a verdict soon. From there, the judge will decide on the length and extremity of the sentence.