The verdict in the trial of Chauvin 

What you need to know:

  • The prosecution, in their final argument, submitted that what Chauvin did was not policing but murder. The prosecution told the jury that Chauvin acted with cruelty and indifference unbefitting of a police officer and should be convicted of murder in this case.  

The death of George Floyd, an American of African descent, drew widespread outrage in 2020 after a video circulated online showing Derek Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd’s neck on a Minneapolis street corner as he gasped for breath. Chauvin was indicted for both murder and manslaughter and the trial lasted for about three weeks.

Murder charge 
The prosecution, in their final argument, submitted that what Chauvin did was not policing but murder. The prosecution told the jury that Chauvin acted with cruelty and indifference unbefitting of a police officer and should be convicted of murder in this case.  It was Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes that killed him on May 25, 2020 and not any heart condition or drug overdose, the prosecution told court.

Prosecution 
The prosecution asked the jury to focus on the actions of Chauvin and not on George Floyd; “George Floyd is not on trial here. You have heard some things about George Floyd that he struggled with drug addiction, that he was being investigated for allegedly passing a fake twenty dollar bill, even when there was never any evidence introduced that he knew it was fake in the first place.” 

The prosecution submitted that Floyd had, many times that day, complied with commands from the police which was evident when one of the police officers first approached him with a handgun pointed at his head.

The prosecution described in vivid detail the last moments of Floyd’s life; how Chauvin kept his knee no Floyd’s neck and back for nine minutes and twenty nine seconds, with Chauvin’s weight on him, and how he twisted Floyd’s his fingers. 

The lungs in Floyd’s chest were unable to expand because there wasn’t enough room to breathe. To the prosecution George Floyd tried; he pushed his bare shoulder against the pavement to lift himself, to give his chest, to give lungs enough room in his chest, to breathe. As the pavement was tearing into his skin, George Floyd was at the same time losing his strength, and he had no superhuman strength that day. “He was trapped. He was trapped with the unyielding pavement underneath him, as unyielding as the men who held him down” submitted the prosecution.

Indifference 
The prosecution observed that Chauvin had shown indifference to Floyd’s life by ignoring his repeated complaints that he could not breathe, as well as demands by bystanders to get off Floyd and an officer’s question about whether the police should move Floyd to another position. “He could have listened to bystanders; he could have listened to fellow officers; he could have listened to his own training. He knew better, he just didn’t do better,” a prosecutor emphasised to the jury. 

The prosecution told the jury that they were the only ones who had the power to convict Chauvin and they had a duty to do so. The jury was implored to believe the video clip that captured the last moments of Floyd’s life; “It is exactly what you saw with your eyes. It is what you felt in your gut. It is what you know in your heart.” The prosecution summarised. 

Floyd’s death set off a wave of protests against police brutality but the prosecution in their final submissions distanced themselves from any broad criticism of the police; “This is not an anti-police prosecution, it is a pro-police prosecution,” one of the prosecutors told the jury.

Evidence 
The lawyer representing Chauvin asked the jury to examine the evidence in the case in totality and start from the point of presumption of innocence. The jury was asked to convict the accused only if the evidence completely eliminated any reasonable doubt or left only an unreasonable doubt. To the lawyer the State had the burden of proving each and every element of the offences beyond reasonable doubt and to him the State had failed to meet this burden of proof. The rule is that jury must believe that the prosecutors had proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict Chauvin and their decision must be unanimous.

To the lawyer, Chauvin had acted reasonably when he knelt on Floyd for more than nine minutes and he implored the jury to also consider the moments before Floyd went to the ground. There was much more to the case than the moments that had been captured on the cell phone video that went viral. To the lawyer the case rested on two important points; whether Chauvin’s actions were unreasonable and outside the policies of the police and whether Chauvin caused the death of Floyd.

The lawyer told the jury that the cardinal principle is that no crime is committed if a police officer is justified in using reasonable force. The jury was also asked to review the scenario and consider how a reasonable police officer in the same situation would have acted. The lawyer asked the jury to consider the moments before the officers put Floyd face down on the ground, when they tried to get handcuffed Floyd into the back of the car, which he resisted saying he was claustrophobic.

The lawyer submitted that a group of bystanders who were yelling for the officers to get off Floyd and check his pulse had actually taken the officers’ attention away from Floyd’s declining health. 

“Human beings make decisions in highly stressful situations that they believe to be right in the very moment it is occurring” the lawyers stated.
The jury was also asked to consider a broad range of factors that could have caused the death of Floyd, including the poor state of his heart and the fentanyl and methamphetamine that were found in his system.

On April 20, the year, the jury, after deliberating for about 10 hours over two days, found Chauvin guilty of the three charges brought against him. He was subsequently sentenced to 270 months (22.2 years) in prison, which sentence he plans to appeal.

“When Floyd was no longer responsive, and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person in a prone position, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy part of our training, ethics or value,” concluded the Police Chief in his evidence. This statement was one of the most significant.                           

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