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  • Writer's pictureAriel Donato

Understanding the Derek Chauvin Trial

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Two hours before the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial is read publicly, a crowd gathers outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis. (Chad Davis/Flickr)

The Incident

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis Police Department officers responded to a call regarding George Floyd’s use of a fake $20 bill. Officers had a hard time taking Floyd into custody, and while he was resisting arrest, they attempted to restrain Floyd. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes while subduing him. Floyd consequently died. The next day, the Minneapolis Police Department terminated Chauvin’s employment.

The Criminal Charges

On May 29, 2020, Chauvin was charged with violating three provisions of law:

  • Third-degree murder (Minnesota statute 609.195(a) ― perpetrating an eminently dangerous act and evincing a depraved mind; act carried out with reckless disregard for or conscious indifference to the loss of life).

  • Second-degree murder, or felony murder (Minnesota statute 609.19 ― death occurred while defendant committed or attempted to commit a felony, e.g., third-degree assault; intent to apply unlawful force that caused harm to victim).

  • Second-degree manslaughter (Minnesota statute 609.205(1) ― culpable negligence creating an unreasonable risk; defendant consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death).

The Actors

Judge Peter Cahill presided over the prosecution. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison oversaw the prosecutorial team, which consisted of Neal Katyal, Jerry Blackwell, Matthew Frank, Steve Schleicher, Erin Eldridge, Sundeep Iyer, and Harrison Gray Kilgore. Attorney Eric Nelson represented Chauvin.

The Jurors

With 12 jurors and two alternates, the diverse jury consisted of five men and nine women. Eight jurors were white, four were black, and two were multiracial. The jurors’ ages ranged from in their 20s to 60s. More specifically:

  • Juror No. 19, the jury foreman, is a white man in his 30s.

  • Juror No. 2, a white man in his 20s, works as a chemist and environmental studies scientist.

  • Juror No. 9 is a multiracial woman in her 20s.

  • Juror No. 27, a married black man in his 30s, works in IT management.

  • Juror No. 44, a white single mother in her 50s, works as a nonprofit executive.

  • Juror No. 52, a black man in his 30s, works in the banking industry and coaches youth sports.

  • Juror No. 55, a white single mother in her 50s, works as an executive assistant in the healthcare industry.

  • Juror No. 79, a married black father in his 40s, works in management.

  • Juror No. 85, a married multiracial mother in her 40s, works as a consultant in organizational management.

  • Juror No. 89, a white woman in her 50s, works as a cardiac care nurse.

  • Juror No. 91, a black grandmother in her 60s, retired from her marketing job and now does volunteer work with under-served children.

  • Juror No. 92, a white woman in her 40s, works in the insurance industry.

  • Juror No. 96 is an unemployed white woman in her 50s who volunteers with the homeless.

  • Juror No. 118, a recently-wed white woman in her 20s, is a social worker.

The Trial

The trial commenced on March 8, 2021. Following jury selection and opening statements, jurors heard from 45 witnesses during 15 days of testimony. The prosecution presented evidence that Chauvin used excessive force and an unapproved technique when he knelt on Floyd’s neck, and that Floyd died of asphyxia and low oxygen. The defense asserted that Chauvin was following his training when arresting a resistant subject who died of a cardiac arrest stemming from drug use, pre-existing heart disease, and clogged arteries.

Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker asserted that Floyd died of homicide (death caused by another person) and found the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” He listed arterial hardening and thickening, heart disease, and drug use as “other significant conditions.” He also found Fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.

After deliberating for over ten hours, the jury reached a guilty verdict on all three charges. During deliberations, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) encouraged protestors to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin were acquitted. Based on Rep. Waters’s comments, the defense moved for a mistrial. The court denied the motion, but observed that Rep. Waters’s statements may provide a basis for a successful appeal.

Following the verdict, the court revoked Chauvin’s bail and remanded him into custody to await sentencing.

The Sentencing

The court is slated to sentence Chauvin in June. Case counsel are currently presenting arguments about whether Chauvin’s sentence should be enhanced due to aggravating factors, and Judge Cahill will rule on aggravation because Chauvin waived a jury.

The maximum available sentences for each crime are as follows: 40 years for second-degree murder, 25 years for third-degree murder, and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines permit lesser sentences, especially if the defendant has no criminal history. Aggravating factors, however, could enable higher sentences.

Following the trial, the family of George Floyd leaves the Hennepin County Government Center. (Chad Davis/Flickr)

The Other Defendants

On August 23, 2021, former Minneapolis Police Department officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao will go to trial on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter for their involvement in the death of Floyd.


Sources & Further Reading


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