Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Two

Week One of this trial was discussed in a prior post. The focus was jury selection with  seven selected: 5 men and 2 women; 4 white and 3 people of color. The prosecution used five of its nine preemptory challenges; the defense, 8 of 15. The stage for Week Two (March 15-19) was set by the March 12th announcement of the $27 million settlement between the City of Minneapolis of the civil case for money damages in federal court brought by the attorneys for the Floyd family [1]

Discussion and Rulings About Impact of City-Floyd Family Settlement [2]

The settlement immediately was raised on Monday by Chauvin’s attorney, Erik Nelson, as a basis for a postponement of the trial or for a reconsideration of the denial of his previous motion for change of venue to an other Minnesota state court. He said, “I am gravely concerned with the news that broke on Friday related to the civil settlement. . . . The fact that this came in the exact middle of jury selection is perplexing to me.” This timing was “very suspicious” and ‘has incredible propensity to taint the jury pool.”

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher opposed a continuance, noting that the prosecution did not and could not control the city council.

Judge Cahill said the timing of  this announcement was unfortunate. “I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much” even though “I don’t find any evil intent that they were trying to tamper with this case. . . . The timing  is not related  to this case.” Nevertheless, “I think the defense has a legitimate concern, and even the state has a concern.” The Judge added that he intends recall the seven jurors chosen so far to question them about the settlement and whether it might affect their ability to serve as an impartial juror. The Judge also said he would consider the defense motion for a continuance and perhaps moving the case to another court in the state.

On Tuesday Erik Nelson read on the record the alleged statement by a city official that Hennepin County Chief District Judge Barnette had “told the city that “it could proceed” with the settlement, as contained in Holly Bailey’s March 15th Washington Post article (cited below).

Judge Peter Cahill immediately responded that the Post article was erroneous. He had been told by the Chief Judge that he had told the city official, “We can’t tell you what to do. There is no approval by this court.” Cahill added that he believes Barnette also told the city official the Chief Judge was concerned about such an announcement in the middle of jury selection.

On Thursday returned to these issues by stating that the city had just claimed that it had to make the announcement of the settlement when it  did even though the documentation will not be finalized for another month and thus raises the question of whether that announcement was necessary. The prosecutor retorted that Nelson’s comments were based on third-hand information. An annoyed Judge Cahill said we need to “stop talking about it. I’ve asked Minneapolis to [do so]. They keep talking about it. We keep talking about it. We need to stop talking about it.”

On Friday morning Judge Cahill denied these defense motions.He stated, “Unfortunately, the pretrial publicity will continue no matter how long we continue the trial. I don’t think there is any place in Minnesota that has not been subject to the extreme amounts of publicity“ about this case.

Court’s Rulings on Other Pending Motions [3]

On Friday the Judge also granted, in part, the defense motion to allow some evidence of Mr. Floyd’s 2019 encounter with the Minneapolis police, limited to his medical condition after having a policeman point a gun at him and taking him into custody; his blood pressure at the scene, policy body camera footage, a suspected illicit drug pill in his car, and his statements to a paramedic for the purpose of her making a diagnosis.

In addition, the Judge granted, in part, the defense motion to limit the testimony of a prosecution witness, Sarah Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist, about Floyd’s reactions to police in May 2020 before he  became unconscious and died. 

Resumed Selection of Jurors [4]

The process of jury selection was complicated on Wednesday by the court’s questioning  (remotely by audio Zoom) seven of the previously jurors about their knowledge of, and reactions to, the  city’s settlement. This led to disqualification of two of them: a Hispanic man in his 20’s who said the settlement “kind of confirms opinions I already have” and a white man in his 30’s who said he was shocked by the size of the settlement.      

Nevertheless, by the end of the week, 13 jurors had been selected: six were people of color: a multiracial woman in her 20’s; a multiracial woman in her 40’s: two black men in their 20’s; a black man in his 40’s; and a black woman in her 60’s. The other seven were white: four women in their 50’s; a woman in her 40’s; a man in his 20’s; and a man in his 30’a.

In addition, at the end of Wednesday’s session the Judge granted three additional preemptory challenges for the defense to bring its total to nine while the prosecution got one more such challenge for a new total of six. Although the Judge initially has said there would only be two alternates, by the end of the week he said he might seek for or five alternates.

The StarTribune provided a useful explanation of alternate jurors in criminal trials. During the trial itself, none of the seated jurors will know who are the alternates, and the judge will not reveal their identities until after the attorneys’ closing arguments. That is to keep all of them at attention during the trial. Although the last ones chosen usually are alternates, that would not necessarily be  true in this important case. But once the jury retires for its deliberations, the identity of the alternates would be revealed and excluded from the jury room 

although they could vibe recalled if any of the 12 jury members has to withdraw during their deliberations before they have reached a verdict.

Thus, next week, absent any subsequent exits of the 13 so far selected, the agenda will be selecting one to three more jurors.

==============================

[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 15, 2021).

[2] Walsh, Timing of $27M settlement in midst of Derek Chauvin trial jury selection called ‘unfortunate’ by court, 8th juror seated, Star Tribune (Mar. 15, 2021); Bailey, Derek Chauvin’s attorney asks for continuance and change of venue in George Floyd case, Wash. Post (Mar. 15, 2021); Barrett, Winter & Ailsworth, Derek Chauvin Lawyer Seeks trial Delay After Settlement With George Floyd Family, W.S.J. (Mar. 15, 2021); Arango & Eligon, Derek Chauvin’s lawyer asks for a delay in the trial, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2021); Walsh, $27M Floyd family payment looms over Derek Chauvin trial today, StarTribune (Mar. 16, 2021); Bailey, Derek Chauvin trial: Jury selection resumes as judge weighs defense request for delay, Wash. Post (Mar. 16, 2016); Olson & Walsh, Record-setting $27 million  Minneapolis settlement clouds jury selection in Chauvin case, StarTribune (Mar. 17, 2021); Walsh, Two seated jurors dismissed in Derek Chauvin murder trial; $27M settlement early focus today, StarTribune (Mar. 17, 2021); Karnowski & Forliti (Assoc. Press), 2 jurors dropped from Chauvin trial after $27M settlement, Wash. Post (Mar. 17, 2021); Walsh, Jury back at 9 after 2 jurors excused earlier in Chauvin trial over hearing of $27M settlement, StarTribune (Mar. 17, 2021); Olson, Walsh & Staff, Chauvin jury back at nine after two dismissed, two added during rocky day in court, StarTribune (Mar. 18, 2021); Bailey, Derek Chauvin Trial: Judge considers whether to allow mention of Floyd’s 2019 arrest, Wash. Post (Mar. 18, 2021); Walsh & Sayle, What happened  Thursday in the Derek Chauvin trial, StarTribune (Mar. 18, 2021); Walsh, Day 9 of Derek Chauvin trial: 3 new jurors for a total as judge urges silence on $27M settlement: ‘Just stop talking about it,’ StarTribune (Mar. 18, 2021); Walsh & Sayle, What Happened Friday in the Derek Chauvin Trial, StarTribune (Mar. 19, 2021); Groves, EXPLAINER: Role of Alternate jurors in ex-officer’s trial, Star-Tribune (Mar. 19, 2021).

[3] Xiong & Walsh, Judge rejects delaying or moving Derek Chauvin murder trial, StarTribune (Mar. 19, 2021); Bailey, Derek Chauvin trial judge denies motions for delay and change if venue, Wash. Post (Mar. 19, 2021).

[4]  Fn. 2 supra.

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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