The “guilty on all counts” verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd was probably a fait accompli. The media had become something of a lynch mob. Before the jury returned their verdict, the President of the United States publicly prayed with Floyd’s family for “a just verdict,” and it’s understandable what verdict the family of the deceased was praying for. Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for more confrontation in the streets if Chauvin was not convicted. . Newspapers – in the hole for “impartial” news, not the opinion pages – continually referred to Chauvin killing Floyd when in fact autopsy showed enough fentanyl to be fatal three times over, a very serious pre-existing cardiovascular condition that could have killed him by itself, and more…but no artifacts of injury to neck, throat, or chest.
I thought reasonable doubt had been established in the course of trial…but I wasn’t on the jury.
There will certainly be appealable issues. There were people on that jury who had said on their questionnaires that they pretty much had already formed an opinion of guilt, but because they said they could set those opinions aside, they were allowed onto the jury.
The change of venue from the city where it happened was denied, on the grounds that the national publicity had permeated every corner of Minnesota. True enough…but there are communities and jury pools in other parts of Minnesota where the jurors wouldn’t have to worry that their own city would burn if they turned in a vote of Not Guilty.
In a volatile and highly politicized case such as this, I respectfully submit that the jury should have been sequestered the entire time, not just during deliberations.
The “spark of life” rule in Minnesota law allowed the prosecution to introduce heart-rending testimony as to what a wonderful person Floyd was (and coming from a loved one, I’m sure that was genuine), but Rule of Evidence 404(b) precluded the jury from hearing testimony from Floyd’s female victim who was pregnant when he robbed her at gunpoint and went behind bars for it, and that definitely tilted the scales of justice off balance. Perhaps this case will make the Minnesota State Supreme Court rethink the “spark of life” testimony/404(b) balance in such cases.
There were some weaknesses in the defense strategy. Testimony suggesting carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of the patrol car? I rolled my eyes at that one.
That said, I don’t think the harsh criticism I’m seeing of defense attorney Eric Nelson is warranted. He was David against Goliath, the sole attorney of record that the police union could afford, against no less than three attorneys at the prosecutors’ table at any time and more behind the scenes backing them up, while Nelson’s only assistance in court came from a fledgling lawyer who had just passed her bar exam and was acting as sort of an intern. I thought he did a particularly good job cross-examining the State’s witnesses, and I think his necessarily long close was more professional than his prosecutorial counterpart’s.
I think the biggest mistake was Chauvin not taking the stand on his own behalf. As all my students have heard me say, when it comes down to “why did you do it as you did?” only you, the defendant, can truly answer. Those answers were never put to Chauvin’s jury.
I’m about out of space here, but we’ll discuss this more in my next entry. I am interested right now in your commentary on the matter, and particularly the comments of my fellow denizens of the courts and the criminal justice system. For those who’ve only followed the trial on mass media, I would urge you to go to www.lawofselfdefense.com for Attorney Andrew Branca’s much more balanced review of the matter.