But over the next four weeks, the debate in Chauvin’s trial in a Hennepin County, Minnesota court will shift to legal details. How exactly Did Floyd die, medically speaking? How aware was Chauvin that Floyd could die? What does “culpable negligence” really mean?
As opening statements for the trial begin Monday, the gap between the social issues at stake and the legal ones will be particularly wide, CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates said.
“Ideas of excessive force in general, ideas of police reform, ideas of police responsibility, ideas of systemic injustice, ideas of the treatment of black victims at the hands of white defendants, all of these will be mentioned and be the elephants in the courtroom, but in the courtroom none of that can overshadow the government’s burden of proof in this specific trial, “Coates said.
“Derek Chauvin is the defendant. Not the American justice system. Not all police officers.”
For the first time in Minnesota, the trial will be streamed live in its entirety to accommodate Covid-19 attendance restrictions, giving the public a glimpse into the biggest case of the Black Lives Matter era.
Now, eight years later, the return to a televised courtroom may offer proof of how much has changed since then and how much the American justice system is capable of adapting to changes outside of the courtroom walls.
How two lives collided
Chauvin and another officer arrived on the scene and fought to get Floyd into the vehicle, according to the complaint. Chauvin allegedly threw Floyd to the ground in a prone position and placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and head. His knee stayed there even as Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” said “I’m about to die,” and eventually stopped breathing, the complaint says. He was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly after.
The final moments of Floyd’s life, captured on video by horrified and angry viewers, illustrated with clear images what black Americans have long said about the ways the criminal justice system dehumanizes blacks.
His death sparked mass protests under the Black Lives Matter banner in cities across the country, as well as incidents of looting and rioting.
What the essay will focus on
However, the trial will not debate Floyd’s symbolism or the merits of Black Lives Matter. Instead, it will focus primarily on two things: the cause of death and Chauvin’s intent.
Chauvin’s defense attorneys have argued that those other conditions were the actual cause of death.
To obtain a guilty verdict, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death. Therefore, a number of forensic pathologists are expected to take the stand to debate this issue, including a likely controversial cross-examination of Dr. Baker.
The three charges differ mainly in how they interpret Chauvin’s intention and mindset during the arrest.
Combined, the charges give jurors three different ways to decide how responsible Chauvin is for Floyd’s death, if at all. – and how well he understood the risk to Floyd.
The defense has not indicated whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense. But given the importance of your mindset to the charges, you can do it to try to explain your behavior and win the sympathy of the jury.
“He’ll almost certainly take the stand and say, ‘We had no idea this guy could die. We were just trying to keep him under control until the doctors get there,'” said Richard Frase, a professor of criminal law at the University of Minnesota Law School.
“You don’t have to convince the world that you are innocent,” Coates said. “You have to plant a seed of reasonable doubt in the mind of a juror.”
Six men and nine women have been chosen to serve on the jury, and 12 of them will ultimately decide Chauvin’s fate.
The charges should be considered separate, so Chauvin could be convicted by all, some or none. If convicted, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for second-degree murder.
Other accused officers will not testify
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, all former Minneapolis police officers, were also on the scene with Chauvin and are charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder and aiding and inciting second degree murder.
They have pleaded not guilty and their joint trial will take place this summer. They are not expected to testify at Chauvin’s trial.
Given the riots and looting that occurred when Floyd died, state and local authorities have taken significant security measures for the trial in what they call “Operation Safety Net.” The Hennepin County Government Center is surrounded by fences and barricades, and the building will be empty, apart from those involved in Chauvin’s trial and approved personnel.
“Residents should expect a gradual increase in the presence of the police and National Guard as we progress through the trial,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Thursday.
In addition, the Covid-19 precautions have reorganized the interior of the field.
All those attending the trial should distance themselves from others and wear a mask, although witnesses and attorneys may remove their masks during testimony and other court statements. Plexiglass has also been installed around the courtroom.
“We need justice because the things my family is going through, no one else will ever go through,” Floyd’s brother Philonese Floyd told CNN earlier this month. “We are shattered and shattered right now.”