Jury selection began Tuesday in the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin – despite an ongoing legal dispute over the possible reinstatement of a third degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis cop.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill on Tuesday made the unusual move to move the 44-year-old’s trial forward, worrying prosecutors who argued this week that the pre-charge third degree process had been decided by a court appeal could ultimately lead to Chauvin’s case. get thrown.
Chauvin, one of four officers indicted for his involvement in the death of George Floyd, is currently facing two counts, second degree murder and second degree manslaughter, during his trial in district court of Hennepin County. The former cop is accused of violently arresting Floyd for a fake $ 20 bill on May 25 and kneeling on the unarmed black man’s neck for more than eight minutes. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
On Monday, Cahill delayed the jury selection process, which is expected to take about three weeks, after the Minnesota Court of Appeals said on Friday that the previously dismissed third degree murder charge against Chauvin should be reconsidered. Cahill, who spoke out against the third degree charge last year, said he wanted to hear the appeals court ruling on whether the new charge should be added to Chauvin’s case .
Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson has previously said he intends to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court if the third degree murder charge is restored.
Prosecutors argued on Monday that jury selection should be postponed until the appeal is resolved, arguing that jurors need clarity on the charges Chauvin will face during the trial. They also want to wait for the appeals court to determine whether the trial is allowed to proceed before bringing dozens of potential jurors to the courthouse.
But Monday’s delay did not last long, with jury selection resuming Tuesday morning under Cahill’s leadership.
“This court will receive jurors for a trial for which we do not yet know what the exact charges will be,” Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, lead prosecutor in the case, said Monday. “Our position is that as long as this appeal is pending, the court does not have the power to hear the matters at issue in the trial.”
Prosecutors fear that the decision to go ahead before the appeals court’s ruling will dismiss the case entirely. They fear that as long as the appeals court waits to rule on the third degree charge, the case falls outside Cahill’s jurisdiction.
“[Chauvin] is effectively in a ‘head I win, tail you lose’ situation, “prosecutors said in Monday’s petition, adding that the former cop” may take his chances at trial … and if he is convicted, he can now also assert that he is entitled to annulment because the district court was incompetent at a crucial moment in the trial.
“The district court rightly recognized that it did not even have jurisdiction to hear arguments on [Chauvin’s] alternative theories against including a third degree murder charge, let alone deciding this issue, ”the motion adds. “The district court mistakenly believes, however, that it can select the jurors who will ultimately rule on this charge.”
Tuesday afternoon, the court of appeal had not rendered its decision.
“We are not trying to delay this case,” Frank said Tuesday. “We want to try it, and we can only try it once.”
“I’m going to keep going until I’m told to stop,” Cahill said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, three of the 12 jurors needed for the trial had been chosen – a young chemist who said he had “rather favorable” opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement and a woman from northern Minnesota who said she was “to go with”. the “fluent, open-minded” type of person. The third juror, who was seated just before Cahill finished court for the day, is a financial auditor who has a friend at the Minneapolis Police Department but claims not to have a favorable opinion of the “Blue Lives Matter” movement.
“I see myself as a pretty logical person… I trust facts and logic and what’s in front of me. Opinion and facts are important distinctions for me, ”the white first juror, who is white, told the court on Tuesday.
It is still unclear whether there will be another delay in the jury selection process as the issue of the third degree murder charge makes its way through the courts. Nelson agreed with Cahill’s decision on Tuesday to continue jury selection as he appeals.
“We are ready to try this business. We do not intend to cause delays. However, I have an ethical obligation to my client, ”Nelson said in court on Monday.
Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said it was unusual to see the third degree murder charge raised just days before the trial began ‚but it is not surprised that Cahill moved the trial. cheeky.
However, he expects Cahill’s decision to trigger some sort of delay for the start of pleadings.
“We will know the answer to the third degree murder charge before we open any arguments.” That’s all that matters, ”he said. “These are the same facts and the charges are closely related. Essentially, the new load allows for a lower level of intent requirement. So I think we’re going to move forward. There’s going to be an appeal no matter what happens in this case, so it doesn’t matter. “
Smith noted that the prosecutor’s decision to press for the third degree murder charge so close to trial is concerning.
“They don’t want to prove a higher level of intent. Something has clearly scared them, ”he said, adding that it will be“ a real blow to them ”if this logistical problem is not resolved quickly.
“Usually you want to go to trial to show real strength. And for me, it seems that there was a change in strategy at the last minute, ”he added.
Smith believes that one of the reasons for this insistence on delaying is their fear of not being able to show the required level of intent that Chauvin wanted to harm Floyd – which could cost them the lawsuit which will be watched in. the whole world. He added, however, that regardless of this persistent appeal decision, the defense will argue for a mistral “more than half a dozen times anyway.”
“I think their biggest challenge won’t be the third degree murder charge decision – it’s going to be about finding a jury in Hennepin that can be a fairground given the press and the summer protests and of everything else.
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