Derek Chauvin Has Attorney for Appeal 

On October 15, William F. Mohrman, a Minneapolis attorney, filed a notice in the Minnesota Court of Appeals that he shall appear as counsel of record for Chauvin.[1]

Mohrman is a partner in the Minneapolis law firm of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A. and previously was an associate attorney with the Minneapolis office of Faegre & Benson and a trial attorney with the Minneapolis law firm of Felharber Larson Fenlon & Vogt. He also has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis and was awarded “Attorney of the Year” by the Minnesota Lawyer publication. [2]

Mohrman has a J.D. degree with an Order of the Coif for academic excellence from the University of Colorado Law School and an undergraduate degree, cum laude, from the University of Colorado and bar admissions in the state and federal courts in that state and Minnesota  as well as the federal court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now Mohrman will be remedying Chauvin’s various failures to abide by rules regarding his appeal. [3]

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[1]  [Notice of Appearance], State v. Chauvin, Minnesota Court of Appeals # A21-1218 (Oct. 15, 2021).

[2]  Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A. 

[3]  Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Chauvin’s Request for Public Defender, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 8, 2021); Derek Chauvin Faces Roadblocks in Appealing His Conviction and Sentencing for Second-Degree Murder of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 9, 2021).

Derek Chauvin Faces Roadblocks in Appealing His Conviction and Sentencing for Second-Degree Murder of George Floyd

Derek Chauvin is facing roadblocks to appealing his conviction and sentencing for second-degree murder of George Floyd that was commenced on September 20 with Chauvin’s notice of appeal, statement of the case, motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IPF) in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and motion to stay this appeal pending the Minnesota Supreme Court’s review of his ineligibility determination for a public defender by the Office of the Minnesota Appellate Public Defender (OMAPD).[1]

The first roadblock occurred on September 24 when the clerk of the appellate courts directed Chauvin within 10 days to (1) pay the $550 filing fee; (2) provide proof of service of the notice of appeal on the district court administrator; and (3) provide proof of service of the appeal papers on the county attorney and attorney general.

The second roadblock was the Minnesota Supreme Court’s October 6th rejection of Chauvin’s appeal from OMAPD’s determination of his ineligibility for a Public Defender in this appeal.  [2] (The Court of Appeals in an  October 8th Order stated his request for the same relief was moot.)

That Court of Appeals’ Order also noted that Chauvin must submit a written request of transcripts within 30 days after the filing of the notice of appeal and that his appellate brief must be submitted within 60 days after the court reporter delivers the transcript.

That Court of Appeals’ Order further noted that because he was not represented by counsel, its rules provided that “the case will be submitted on the briefs and record without oral arguments by any party.” If, however, Chauvin subsequently obtains counsel, he may file a motion requesting oral argument.

These details were incorporated in the Court of Appeals’ Order as follows:

  1. On or before October 15 Chauvin “shall file proof of service of the notice of appeal on the Hennepin County District Court Administrator and proof of service of the notice of appeal and statement of the case on the Minnesota Attorney General.”
  2. Chauvin’s “motion to proceed IFP in this court is denied.”
  3. Chauvin’s “motion to stay this appeal is denied.”
  4. “On or before October 22, 2021, [Chauvin] shall pay the $550 filing fee.”
  5. “On or before October 22, 2021, [Chauvin] shall order a transcript of the district court proceedings from the court reporter and make financial arrangements for the court reporter to file a completed transcript certificate by November 12, 2021.”
  6. Chauvin’s “request for oral argument is denied without prejudice to a subsequent motion for oral argument filed by counsel.”

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[1] Olson, Appeals Court: Derek Chauvin can’t make oral arguments unless he hires a lawyer, StarTribune (Oct. 8, 2021); Order, State v. Chauvin, Minn. Ct. App. #A21-1228 (Oct. 8, 2021).

[2] Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Chauvin’s Request for Public Defender, dwkcommentaries (Oct. 8, 2021).

Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Chauvin Request for Public Defender     

On October 6, 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Derek Chauvin’s request for appointment of a public defender for his appeal of his conviction and sentencing for second-degree murder of George Floyd.[1]

Chauvin’s request apparently was made on September 23, when he stated the following to the Office of the Minnesota Appellate Public Defender (OMAPD):

  • “Due to my incarceration, I do not have the sufficient means to retain private counsel for the appeal.”
  • “I currently have no source of income, besides nominal prison wages, nor do I own any real property or vehicles. I am currently unmarried and have no dependents.”
  • “My only assets are two retirement accounts. I would face a significant penalty for early access to these retirement funds.”
  • “The district court case for which I intend to appeal was paid for by the Minneapolis Peace and Police Officer’s Association, and I have been informed that their obligation to pay for my representation terminated upon my conviction and sentencing,”

The OMAPD denied this request and the Supreme Court’s Order in effect affirmed the OMAPD’s conclusion  that Chauvin had not established that “through any combination of liquid assets and current income [he] would be unable to pay the reasonable costs charged by private counsel” for prosecution of this appeal. (Minn. Stat. sec. 611.17(a)(2).)

As the Court stated, “Having reviewed Chauvin’s request, the information provided regarding his assets and debts, and the OMAPD’s determination, we conclude that Chauvin has not established that he is entitled to appointed representation at this time.” (Unfortunately, this blogger was unable to obtain a copy of the OMAPD determination.)

However, the Supreme Court added that this denial “is without prejudice to a future application for such an appointment.”

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[1]  AP, Minnesota court denies Chauvin’s request for public defender, Wash. Post (Oct. 6, 2021); Olson, Supreme Court denies Chauvin’s request for a public defender for appeals in Floyd murder, StarTribune (Oct. 6, 2021); Sarnoff, Derek Chauvin Appeal: Minnesota State Supreme Court Upholds Denial of Request for Public Defender, Law & Crime (Oct. 6, 2021); Order, In re Application of Derek Chauvin for relief from the Ineligibility Determination of the State Public Defender, Minn. Sup. Ct. # ADM08-8001 (Oct. 6, 2021). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

 

 

 

 

Derek Chauvin Appeals His Conviction and Sentencing for Second-Degree Murder of George Floyd         

On September 23, 2021, Derek Chauvin initiated his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals from the Hennepin County District Court ‘s June 25th Sentencing Order and Memorandum Opinion holding him guilty of second-degree murder of George Floyd and sentencing Chauvin to 22.5 years imprisonment for that crime.[1]

The document initiating this appeal was Chauvin’s Statement of the Case of Appellant.[2] It stated the following issues for the appeal:

“(1) The District Court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant’s motion for change of venue or a new trial;

(2) The District Court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant’s motion for a continuance or a new trial;

(3) The District Court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant’s motions to sequester the jury throughout trial;

(4) The State committed prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct;

(5) The District Court prejudicially erred when it concluded that the testimony of Morries Hall, or in the alternative Mr. Hall’s statements to law enforcement, did not fall under Minn. R. Evid. 804(b)(3) and was not a violation Appellant’s constitutional confrontation rights;

(6) The District Court prejudicially erred when it permitted the State to present cumulative evidence with respect to use of force;

(7) The District Court abused its discretion when it ordered the State to lead witnesses on direct examination;

(8) The District Court abused its discretion when it failed to make an official record of the numerous sidebar conferences that occurred during trials;

(9) The District Court abused its discretion when it failed to allow Appellant to exercise several cause strikes for clearly biased jurors during voir dire;

(10) The District Court abused its discretion when it permitted the State of amend its complaint to add the charge of third-degree murder;

(11) The District Court abused its discretion when it strictly limited and undercut the admissibility of George Floyd’s May 6, 2019 arrest;

(12) The District Court abused its discretion when it submitted instructions to the jury that materially misstated the law;

(13) The District Court abused its discretion when it by denying Appellant’s motion for a Schwartz hearing;

(l4) The District Court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant’s post-verdict motion for a new trial due to juror misconduct.”

These issues will be presented and argued with citations to legal precedents and the trial record in the subsequent briefs and oral arguments of the parties.

However, a practical problem for Chauvin is the inability of his trial counsel, Eric Nelson, to represent him on this appeal because the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which had paid Nelson’s attorneys’ fees for Chauvin’s pretrial and trial proceedings, does not pay such fees for appeals after conviction and Chauvin does not have the financial ability to pay for appellate counsel. As a result, on September 23, District Judge Peter Cahill entered an Order Granting In Forma Paupereris Application of Mr. Chauvin. Now Chauvin awaits the Minnesota Supreme Court’s action on his application to reverse its earlier decision denying him a public defender to represent him on this appeal.

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[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021); Forlitti (AP), Chauvin to appeal conviction, sentence in Floyd’s death, Wash. Post (Sept. 23, 2021); Chhith, Derek Chauvin appeals his conviction in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (Sept. 23, 2021).

[2] Statement of the Case of Appellant, State v. Chauvin, Minnesota Court of Appeals Case No. A21-1228 (Sept. 23, 2021).

Criminal Cases Over George Floyd Killing: Recent Developments  

As mentioned in previous posts, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced in Minnesota state trial court for the May 2020 killing of George Floyd[1] and he has been criminally charged in Minnesota federal court for that same killing.[2] The other three former police officers who were so involved (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao) also face state and federal criminal charges with their state trial scheduled for March 2022 while their request for prohibition of video or audio coverage of the trial is still pending.[3]

There have been recent developments in these cases.

Minnesota Supreme Court OverturnsThird-Degree Murder Conviction of Mohammed Noor.[4]

Former Minneapolis police Officer Mohammed Noor, after trial in state court, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the July 15, 2017, killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and on September 15, 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously reversed the third-degree murder conviction and remanded the case for re-sentencing on the manslaughter charge.

The Supreme Court held that the third-degree murder statute required a “depraved mind” or a “generalized indifference to human life”  and that  requirement cannot be satisfied when a defendant’s conduct is aimed at a single person, as was the case with Noor.

Upon remand to the trial court, Noor will be re-sentenced for his conviction for second-degree manslaughter, which is expected to be four years, which given his imprisonment so far for 28 ½ months means he could be eligible for supervised release in 3.5 months.

This decision raises the question of whether it will affect Chauvin’s sentence of 22 ½ years for the second-degree murder of George Floyd. Although the jury also had found Chauvin guilty for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, the 22 ½ year sentence was only based on conviction for second-degree murder.[5] Therefore, the Noor decision does not directly impact Chauvin’s sentence. Perhaps Chauvin’s attorney will argue on appeal that the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin unfairly impacted the entire case against him and thus calls for complete reversal by the appellate court, but Susan Gaertner, former Ramsey County Attorney, thinks that is highly unlikely. This blogger, a retired attorney without criminal law experience, concurs in that reaction.

Chauvin and the Other Three Defendants Plead to Federal Criminal Charges.[6]

In May 2021, Chauvin and the three other officers were criminally charged in federal court with allegedly using the “color of the law” to deprive Mr. Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” in his May 2020 arrest, and on September 14, 2021, all four entered not guilty pleas in federal court.

The pending motions of the other three officers to be tried separately from Chauvin have not yet been acted upon.

On September 16, Chauvin was arraigned on a separate charge in federal court for alleged use of excessive force in the September 2017 arrest of a 14-year-old boy, and Chauvin entered a not guilty plea to this charge.

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[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (CONVICTION), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021).

[2] Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021); Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Cops for George Floyd Death: Initial Proceedings, dwkcommentaries.com (June 2, 2021).

[3]  Defendant’s Motion To Exclude Video and Audio Recording of Proceedings, State v. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane, District Court , Court File NO.: 27-CR-20-12953 & 27-CR-20-12931 (Aug. 25, 2021); State’s Memorandum of Law Opposing Motions To Exclude Audio and Video Recording of Proceedings, District Court File NO.: 27-CR-20-12953 & 27-CR-20-12931 & 27-CR-20-12949 (Sept. 1, 2021).

[4] Minnesota Supreme Court Hears Argument About Scope of Third- Degree Murder Statute, dwkcommentaries.com (June 10, 2021); Xiong & Olson, Supreme Court overturns third-degree murder conviction against ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohammed Noor, StarTribune (Sept. 16, 2021); State v. Noor, Opinion, No. A19-1089 (Minn. Sup. Ct. Sept. 15, 2021).

[5] See. n.1.

[6]  Mannix, Four former Minneapolis officers plead not guilty to federal civil rights charges, StarTribune (Sept. 14, 2001); Olson, Chauvin enters not guilty plea to federal civil rights charge involving a 14-year-old, StarTribune (Sept. 16, 2021); Federal Criminal Case Over George Floyd Killing: Request To Sever Chauvin Case from Three Co-Defendants Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 9, 2021).

 

Federal Criminal Case Over George Floyd Killing: Requests To Sever Chauvin Case from Three Co-Defendants Case 

On April 20, 2021, the  first criminal trial over the killing of George Floyd resulted in a Minnesota state court jury verdict holding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.  On June 25, 2021, Minnesota District Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years imprisonment for these crimes. [1]

Since then the Minnesota state court has handled various issues relating to the Chauvin conviction and sentencing while also preparing for the criminal trial in March 2022 of the other three former Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of Mr. Floyd (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao).[2]

Federal Criminal Cases Over the Killing of George Floyd[3]

In the meantime, on May 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice filed in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis an indictment against Chauvin and these other three former Minneapolis police officers. These were the charges:

  • Count 1 charged Derek Chauvin, “while acting under color of law . . . willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.”
  • Count 2 charged Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, “acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from an unreasonable seizure . . . [by failing] to intervene to stop . . . Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.”
  • Count 3 charged all four defendants, “while acting under color of law, willfully deprived George Floyd of the right, secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which includes an arrestee’s right to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs [when they saw ] George Floyd lying on the ground in clear need of medical care, and willfully failed to aid Floyd, thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd.”

Also on May 6, 2021, the Department of Justice filed in the federal court in Minneapolis another indictment of Chauvin for alleged use of unreasonable force against a juvenile in 2017. But the other three former Minneapolis policemen were not involved in this case.

Motions To Sever the Federal Chauvin Case from That Case Against the Other Three Ex-Cops[4]

As of August 4, 2021, the docket sheet for the federal case over the killing of Mr. Floyd had 104 entries, almost all of which are preliminary matters not requiring comments here.

However, on August 3, defendants Thao, Kueng and Lane filed motions to sever their cases from the one against Chauvin, Thao’s motion had the following most extensive statement pf reasons for severance:

  1. The defendants were “not properly joined under Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” which allows charging “2 or more defendants if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses.”
  2. “The jury will have insurmountable difficulty distinguishing the alleged acts of each defendant from the alleged acts of his co-defendants.”
  3. ”Evidence may be introduced by each defendant which would be inadmissible against other defendants in a separate trial to the prejudice of these defendants.”
  4. “The counts of the indictment are not properly joined under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,which allows charging “a defendant in separate counts with 2 or more offenses if the offenses charged—whether felonies or misdemeanors or both—are of the same or similar character, or are based on the same act or transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a common scheme or plan.”
  5. “Mr. Thao’s Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself will be prejudiced by the joinder of the counts.”
  6. “Evidence which would be inadmissible were the counts tried separately, may be admitted and considered by the jury to the prejudice of Mr. Thao.”
  7. “The jury will have insurmountable difficult distinguishing evidence presented on one count from that evidence presented on other counts, and will inevitably consider the evidence cumulatively.”
  8. “Mr. Thao will obtain a fair and more impartial Trial [if] he is tried separately from his co-defendants.”

As other filings however, make clear, the U.S. opposes the severance motions but agrees to abide by any order the Court may issue on these motions. However, “a decision on severance is pre-mature,” and all parties “jointly ask that [these] motions[s] be reserved until a point in the future when information relevant to severance of Mr. Chauvin becomes more developed.[5]

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[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Seven (CONVICTION), dwkcommenbtaries.com (April 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment, dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2021).

[2] Xiong, State trial postponed to March 2022 for ex-officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in George Floyd death, StarTribune (May 13, 2021);  Bailey, Trial for 3 former officers charged in George Floyd murder delayed until March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Furber, Judge Delays Trial for Other Officers Charged in Killing of George Floyd, N.Y. Times (May 13, 2021).

[3] Federal Court Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd’s Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021); Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Copes for George Floyd Death: Initial Proceedings, dwkcommentaries.com (June 2, 2021).

[4] Forliti (AP), Ex-cops charged in Floyd death want separation from Chauvin, StarTribune (Aug. 3, (2021); Xiong, Former Minneapolis officers request separate federal trial from Derek Chauvin, StarTribune (Aug. 3, 2021); Motion for Severance. United Sates v. Thao, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) (Aug. 3, 2021); Defendant’s Pretrial Motion for Severance of Derek Chauvin (Defendant 1), U.S. v. Kueng, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) (Aug. 3, 2021); Motion To Join Co-Defendants Pretrial Motions, U.S. v. Lane, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108 (Aug. 3, 2021).

[5] Defendant’s Meet and Confer Notice, U.S. v. Kueng, U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist. Minn. File No. 21-CR-108(2) Aug. 3, 2021.See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

Derek Chauvin Trial: Court Denies State’s Motion To Amend Sentencing Opinion          

“On July 7, 2021, the State of Minnesota made an unusual request of Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill: revise its June 25, 2021, Sentencing Memorandum Opinion regarding Derek Chauvin, but not its 22.5 year sentencing order for him. The requested change was to include the presence of children at the scene of George Floyd’s murder as an aggravating factor for sentencing.” (Emphasis added.)[1]

Only six days later, on July 13, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill denied this request or motion.[2]

The Judge first noted that the State did “not cite any statues or rules it contends vest this Court with jurisdiction over this case “ at this juncture and did not request or expect any response from Chauvin. (Pp. 1-2.) In other words, there was no legal basis for the State’s request.

Judge Cahill then made the following criticisms of the merits of the State’s request:

  • It ignored the Court’s focus: Chauvin’s conduct toward George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
  • The Court did not find or write in the Sentencing Memorandum Opinion that the four minor eyewitnesses were not traumatized, rather it stated that the trial evidence did not present any objective indicia of trauma.” (Emphasis by Court.)
  • The State failed to exercise its right to a separate contested sentencing hearing on alleged aggravating factors.
  • The State gave lower priority and less attention to the presence of children in its arguments for aggravating factors for sentencing.
  • The Court was not intending “to send a message” of any kind in its sentencing.
  • The Court did not make its sentencing decision on the basis of the racial or ethnic status of any of the observers at the May 25, 2020 scene of the killing of Mr. Floyd or of the three young women and nine-year-old girl observers.
  • The State ignores the law that the court has to find “substantial and compelling reason” why an aggravating factor may call for an aggravated sentence, and cases so involving the presence of children are distinguishable.
  • The court, in accordance with the law, imposed a 22.5 year sentence on Chauvin that was “rational and just, . . helps to promote public safety, . . . reduces sentencing disparity, . . . and is proportional to the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.

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[1] Derek Chauvin Trial: State Requests Modification of Court’s Sentencing Memorandum, dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2021) (emphasis added). /

[2] Oder Denying State’s Request To Modify Sentencing Order Memorandum Opinion, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (July 13, 2021); Olson, Chauvin judge declines state request to revise memo about young eyewitnesses to Floyd murder, StarTribune (July 13, 2021).

 

Derek Chauvin Trial: State Requests Modification of Court’s Sentencing Opinion

On July 7, 2021, the State of Minnesota made an unusual request of Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill: revise its June 25, 2021, Sentencing Memorandum Opinion, but not its 22.5 year sentencing order. The requested change was to include the presence of children at the scene of George Floyd’s murder as an aggravating factor for sentencing.

Rationale for the Request[1]

 The State asserted the following two reasons for this request.

First, the Court said, contrary to laws and common sense,” that the children’s presence should not be an aggravating factor because they “were not forcibly held at the scene or otherwise prevented from leaving.”  However, according to the Attorney General, “The Minnesota Supreme Court has clearly stated that an aggravating factor applies when children witness criminal activity.[Emphasis in Ellison letter.]Children lack the adult capacity for decision-making, including the ability to maturely ‘walk away.’ Moreover, the law does not place the burden on a child to choose between staying—whether to stand witness or in an attempt to aid a victim—or leaving the scene of a crime. For good reason: The responsibility of shielding a child from witnessing a crime should not fall on the child. In other words, a child is akin to a victim when she perceives a horrific event—such as murder—without anything more.”

Moreover, the “State is deeply worried about the message sent by suggesting that instead of attempting to intervene in order to stop a crime—which children did in this case—children should simply walk away and ignore their moral compass. Children should never be put in this position.”

Second, “the State vehemently disagrees with the Court’s factual assertion that the demeanor the children exhibited in the video of  Mr. Floyd’s death indicates that the children were not traumatized. The children’s emotional testimony at trial—including that one of them stays awake at night and another cannot return to Cup Foods—belies that conclusion.”

Third, “the best social science research also supports modifying the opinion’s reliance on the children’s demeanor. . .. [It] ignored the facts that the children courageously confronted Mr. Chauvin and his codefendants –by pleading repeatedly for Mr. Chauvin to remove his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck so that he could breathe, and by begging Mr. Chauvin and his codefendants to check Mr. Floyd’s pulse [and instead] relied on its observation that the children smiled or giggled at various points during the incident. But that observation is completely immaterial: Children process traumatic experiences in ways that may seem unusual to the untrained eye. Moreover, as social science research demonstrates, for humans of all ages, giggling or smiling can actually be normal responses to stressful experiences. Additionally, and particularly relevant here, research demonstrates that ‘adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like that their white peers.’ This phenomenon of ‘adultification’ is unfortunately common in American society, including the criminal justice system, and has led even careful observers to discount a young Black girl’s trauma.”

Support for these references to social science research was provided in the accompanying Declaration (under Penalty of Perjury) of Sarah Yvonne Vinson, an eminently qualified Triple Board-Certified Child & Adolescent, Adult and Forensic Psychiatrist.[2]

Finally while noting the State’s “utmost respect for the Court, including tis tremendous efforts to reduce implicit bias in this trial,,” the State said the Court’s “discounting the trauma of the children who testified at trial—in an authoritative judicial opinion, no less—will only exacerbate the trauma they have suffered. The Court should correct the public record to avoid that result.”

Conclusion

 This blog previously stated its disagreement with the Court’s rejection of the presence of children as an aggravating factor for sentencing.[3]

The Court also failed to acknowledge the judgment and courage of one of the children—17 year-old- Darnella Frazier—in deciding that day to use her cell phone to make a 10-plus minute video recording of the restraint and murder of Mr. Floyd.[4]

Finally, although not relevant to the Court’s opinion, Frazier’s traumatization unfortunately was further exasperated on July 6, 2021, when her innocent uncle (Leneal Lamont Frazier, age 40,) was killed in a car crash involving a Minneapolis police vehicle that was pursuing another vehicle containing a robbery suspect. Darnella said on FACEBOOK, “MINNEAPOLIS police killed my uncle . . . Another Black man lost his life in the hands of the police. Minneapolis police [have] cost my whole family a big loss. . . today has been a day full of heartbreak and sadness.” Later she added the following clarification to that post: “”I never said the police killed him on purpose. I said it was the police’s fault … The police car is the car that killed my uncle.” She wrote that the police made a bad decision by conducting a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood, and that bad decision “cost my uncle his life.”[5]

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[1] Letter, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to Judge Peter Cahill, State v. Chauvin, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (July 7, 2021); Xiong, Attorney General challenges judge’s characterization of  girls’ reactions at Floyd murder scene, StarTribune (July 8, 2021).

[2] Declaration of Sarah Yvonne Vinson, State v. Chauvin, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (July 7, 2021).

Click to access MCRO_27-CR-20-12646_Other-Document_2021-07-07_20210708080542.pdf

[3] See these posts to dwekcommetaries.com: Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four (April 2, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment,  (June 28, 2021).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Witnessing (April 25, 2021); Darnella Frazier’s Continued Witnessing (May 26, 2021); More Honors for Darnella Frazier (June 12, 2021).

[5] Hyatt & Miller, Mourners block street where Minneapolis police car crashed into car during pursuit, killing innocent driver, StarTribune (July 8, 2021); Bela, Darnella Frazier says her uncle was killed by a police car that was chasing a robbery suspect, Wash. Post (July 7, 2021).

 

 

Reconsidering Third-Degree Murder Charges Against Other Ex-Policemen in George Floyd Killing 

On June 30, 2021, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed  Judge Cahill’s denial of the State’s motion to add a third-degree murder aiding and abetting charge against former MPD officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Their trial is now scheduled for March 2022.[1]

Before looking at this Court of Appeals decision, we will examine a summary of the complicated background for this issue.

Background for Appellate Decision

“Murder in the Third Degree: in the Minnesota Statutes (section 609.195) is defined as “Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.”

The original superseding criminal complaint of June 3, 2020, against Derek Chauvin included a third-degree murder charge while not so charging the other three former officers of aiding and abetting that charge in their original complaints of June 3.[2]

On August 28, 2020, Chauvin moved to dismiss the complaint, including the third-degree murder charge. On October 21, 2020, Judge Cahill granted Chauvin’s motion to dismiss the third-degree murder charge while denying the balance of the motion. According to the Judge, such a charge can be sustained only when “the defendant’s actions . . . were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred.” [3]

On February 4, 2021, the State moved for leave to reinstate the third-degree charges against the former officers. The basis for this motion was the Court of Appeals’ February 4th 2-1 decision upholding a third-degree murder charge against Mohammed Noor for the 2017 killing of an Australian woman in south Minneapolis.[4]

On February 11, Judge Cahill denied this motion to add the third-degree murder charges. According to the Judge, the majority opinion in its recent Noor case “is not persuasive in this Court’s view because it departs from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s long adherence to the no-particular person requirement embedded in the depraved mind element [of the crime].” In addition, said Judge Cahill, the dissent in the Noor case was correct.[5]

On February 22, the State appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals. On March 1 the Court of Appeals heard arguments on that appeal, and on March 5 that court reversed Judge Cahill’s decision. As a result, on March 11, Judge Cahill reinstituted the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. The Judge said he was “duty bound” to accept the appellate court’s ruling and interpretation of the statute.[6]

Court of Appeals June 30th Decision[7]

The Court of Appeals on June 30, 2021, said that its previous decision on the third-degree murder charge in the Chauvin case requires Judge Cahill to reverse his previous denial of the charge of aiding and abetting such a crime by these three former officers and to hear additional arguments from the parties.

Judge Cahill will be duty-bound to follow this decision and order.

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

[1] Xiong, Court of Appeals ruling puts third-degree murder back into play in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 1, 2021); Williams, Minnesota appeals court clears way for third-degree murder charge against officers in George Floyd death, The Hill (July 1, 2021).

[2] The Criminal Complaint Against Derek Chauvin Over the Death of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 12, 2020); The Criminal Complaints Against the Other Three Policemen Involved in George Floyd’s Death, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2020).

[3] Chauvin Moves To Dismiss Criminal Complaint, dwkcommentareis.com (Sept. 9, 2020); Court Sustains Most Charges in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 23, 2020).

[4] Prosecution and Chauvin Dispute Adding Third-Degree Murder Charges in George Floyd Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 10, 2021); Court Denies Third-Degree Murder Charges for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 12, 2021).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Comment: State Appeals Dismissal of Third-Degree Murder Charges in George Floyd Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 23, 2021); Appellate Hearing on Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 1, 2021); Court of Appeals Reverses District Court’s Refusal To Follow Precedent on Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 5, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 15, 2021)Thomas Lan

[7] See n.1 supra.

 

Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment           

                                                                                                                               On June 25, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill entered the following order, “ As to Count I, based on the verdict of the jury finding you guilty of unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony under Minn. Stat. sec. 609.19, subd. 2(1), it is the judgment of the Court that you now stand convicted of that offense. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. sec. 609.04, Counts II and III remain unadjudicated as they are lesser offenses of Count I.”

Therefore, the “Court commits . . . [Derek Chauvin] to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections for a period of 270 months [22.5 years]. You are granted credit for 199 days already served.”[1]

With this sentence, the  Minnesota Department of Corrections has said that if Chauvin qualifies by good behavior in prison, he would be released from prison on December 10, 2035, which will be when Chauvin is 59 years old, followed by supervised parole until June 8, 2043.

Court’s Opinion Regarding This Sentence[2]

Judge Cahill first reviewed the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, which were promulgated “to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards the promote public safety, reduce sentencing disparity, and ensure that the sanctions imposed . . . are proportional to the severity of the . . . offense and the offender’s criminal history.”  The Guidelines also establish “presumptive ranges” for the offenses and for most cases, the maximum sentence that may be imposed is at the top of that range.

However, the Guidelines also recognize that there are cases when the guidelines may not be appropriate and that a different sentence may be imposed for “substantial and compelling circumstances,” i.e., when the “defendant’s conduct in the offense . . . was significantly more or less serious than that typically involved in the commission of the crime in question.” (Emphasis in original quotation of Minnesota Supreme Court case.)

Here, the presumptive range of a sentence for second-degree murder is 128 to 180 months with a presumptive sentence of 150 months (12.5 years). To deviate from these guidelines, the court (or jury) must find that there were one or more “aggravating factors” in the crime at issue. Here, the court determined that there were two such “aggravating factors”: Chauvin abused a position of trust and authority and Chauvin treated Mr. Floyd with particular cruelty.

Although the court previously had concluded there were two other aggravating factors–children were present during the commission of the crime and Chauvin committed the crime with the active participation of three other former Minneapolis policemen—Judge Cahill for various reasons declined to use them for determining the sentence.

Judge Cahill then sought “to effectuate the Minnesota guidelines policy of reducing sentencing disparity” by examining Minnesota sentences over that last ten years for murder in the second-degree. For all such sentences, 67% were within the presumptive guidelines range while 20% were upward departures and 13% were downward departures. Moreover, the most common aggravated sentence has been 240 months (20 years) while the average aggravated departure for defendants with a zero criminal history score [like Chauvin] was 278.2 month (23.2 years).

Therefore, the court concluded, “Mr. Chauvin, rather than pursuing the MPD mission [to give citizens ‘voice and respect’], treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor. In the Court’s view, 270 months, which amounts to an additional ten years over the presumptive 150-month sentence, is the appropriate sentence.” In other words, “In consideration of all the facts presented at trial, this Court’s experience, and the collective experience of the entire Court over the last ten years, the Court finds the appropriate prison sentence for Mr. Chauvin is 270 months.”

This opinion demonstrates Judge Cahill’s careful attention to factual and legal details. The only part that is questionable, in this blogger’s opinion, is his refusal to consider for sentencing his previous conclusion that another aggravating factors was  the presence of children. Compare his previous conclusion on this factors with his stated rationale for not considering it for sentencing:

  • Sentencing conclusion. “Although four young women were present and observed portions of the nine and a half minutes restraint of Mr. Floyd, none was injured or threatened with physical injury so long as they did not interfere; none had been present during the previous police struggle to get Mr. Floyd into a squad car, were free to leave the scene at any time, they did not know any of the officers or Mr. Floyd and at trial did not present any objective indicia of trauma.”
  • Previous conclusion. “Children were present on the sidewalk adjoining Chicago Avenue standing only a few feet from where . . . [Chauvin] and the other officers were restraining George Floyd prone in the street and observed Mr. Floyd being asphyxiated as he begged for his life.. . . Although these four children did not observe all the events, they did observe a substantial portion of the . . .[Chauvin’s] use of force and witnesses the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life.”

This sentencing conclusion, in this blogger’s opinion, is weak in light of  the trial testimony of then 17-year-old Darnella Frazier: “When I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black,” she said. “I have a Black father, I have Black brothers, I have Black friends. I look at them and how it could have been one of them. It’s been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life, it’s not what I should have done it’s what he [Chauvin] should have done.” Another 17-year-old girl testified at trial,  “It was difficult because I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do. As a bystander I was powerless there, and I was failing to do anything.”

The court’s refusal to consider for sentencing the other aggravating factor of Chauvin’s committing the crime with the assistance of others, however, was justified given the statute’s requirement for sentencing that the others be “offenders,”  which has not yet been established with their trial scheduled for this August

Sentencing Hearing[3]

At the June 25 hearing, before the Court imposed the above sentence, the Court heard victim impact statements from members of the Floyd family (seven-year-old daughter Gianna, brothers Terrance and Philonise and nephew Brandon Williams), and Chauvin’s mother (Carolyn Pawlenty).

Derek Chauvin also made the following statement. “At this time due to some additional legal matters at hand, I’m not able to give a full, formal statement at this time. Briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some peace of mind. Thank you.” (Emphases added.)

No further information was provided as to what this future information will be, but the only thing this blogger can think of that would be of some comfort to the Floyd family would be an overall agreement among Chauvin and the federal and Minnesota prosecutors for Chauvin to plead guilty to all charges and to abandon any appeal from this guilty verdict and judgment in exchange for an agreed sentence to a federal detention facility.

In addition, at this hearing, Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank and defense attorney Erik Nelson made short statements in support of their requested sentences (30 years by the State and probation and parole by the defense).

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Cahill said the sentence was “not based on public opinion. I am not basing it on any attempt to send any messages. The job of a trial judge is to apply the law to specific facts.”

Court’s Order Denying Two Defendant’s Motions[4]

 On June 24 (the day before the hearing), the Court denied Chauvin’s motions for a new trial and for a Schwartz hearing to investigate the jury’s conduct during the trial.  Those denials followed from the following findings of fact and conclusions of law by the court:

  1. “Defendant has failed to demonstrate that the Court abused its discretion or committed error that Defendant was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
  2. “Defendant has failed to demonstrate that the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct such that Defendant was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
  3. “Defendant has failed to establish a prima facie case of juror misconduct or that a juror gave false testimony during voir dire to warrant an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Schwarz v. Minneapolis Suburban Bus Co. . . . [and] State v. Ussee. . . .”

Commentary About the Sentencing[5]

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement published by the Washington Post said, “Chauvin is one of the few police officers ever convicted of murder for a death on the job. Chauvin’s 22½-year sentence, announced Friday, is one of the longest any police officer in the United States has received in modern times for the death of a civilian.”

“But one exceptional case does not solve the problem. Can this conviction help us finally break the cycle of inaction once and for all?”

“It depends whether we act.”

“Prosecutors must act.”

“Prosecutors must commit to vigorous, visible and swift prosecutions of in-custody deaths when there is probable cause that the use of force was unlawful. They should not be afraid to use all the tools the law puts at their disposal. The visibility of prosecutions, to restore and build credibility with the public, is as important as the vigor employed.”

“The Justice Department must also be a partner in prosecuting cases when local prosecutions fail to win convictions — or fail to act. The Biden administration’s return to conducting investigations into biased policing patterns and practices is also welcome.”

“Prosecutions must also be swift. Chauvin was convicted less than a year after he took Floyd’s life. By contrast, it took four years from the death of Laquan McDonald for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke to be convicted. We cannot possibly build public trust if we allow prosecutions to take this long.”

“Lawmakers must act.”

“Congress must pass the strongest version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act it can pass. Don’t wait for the perfect bill when a meaningful first step is within reach. Remember: the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were passed after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Enduring, systemic change takes time.”

“At the state level, legislatures should authorize attorneys general to conduct investigations into local law enforcement to bring to light any persistent patterns of misconduct within a given police department. State-based pattern-or-practice investigations — which critically involve both community members and police officers — have proved successful. If states don’t do that, Congress should make it possible for attorneys general to rely on federal authority to conduct these investigations.”

“City councils and county boards must support reform-minded law enforcement leaders and, if necessary, use the power of the purse to compel reform by directing money toward progressive training and holding leadership accountable for outcomes. We must also recognize that, too often, we ask police officers to solve problems they are neither trained nor intended to solve. We must provide people in crisis with comprehensive social services that law enforcement cannot provide, and we must also support officer wellness.”

“Law enforcement must act.”

“Police leadership must be empowered to take meaningful action. Rather than punishing good officers who call out their colleagues’ bad behavior, as sometimes occurs, police departments should celebrate them and commend their service.”

“The Chauvin trial produced some remarkable, even astonishing, moments, with multiple police officers testifying for the prosecution, and with the police chief, in full uniform, testifying that the defendant’s behavior was not a reasonable use of force in line with department policy. Such testimony should become commonplace, not remain a rarity.”’

“This isn’t about creating a culture of ‘snitching” — it’s about creating a culture of accountability that sets and enforces clear professional standards that protect both police officers and community members.”

“Finally, communities must act.”

“It is imperative that communities keep up the pressure for reform and accountability, and finally end the cycle of inaction. My office could not have led the prosecution of Chauvin without the help of ordinary people who courageously bore witness to Floyd’s death, and the pressure from a community that demanded accountability and action.”

President Joe Biden. At the White House on June 25, President Biden responded to a reporter’s question about the sentencing with this comment: “I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.”

Washington Post Editorial. An editorial in the Washington Post said Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing “should bring a measure of satisfaction that justice was served and assure Americans that the system is not hopelessly broken.”

But more broadly , “Policing in the United States could be more effective and less threatening to minority communities. Officers who commit wrongdoings could face more certain punishments. Floyd’s death last spring appeared to spur a reckoning on U.S. policing, but that momentum has slowed in recent months.”

For example, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill so far has failed to pass in the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives in March passed a sweeping police reform bill, but Republican opposition in the Senate appears to doom that bill.

Experts’ Reactions. Although the Chauvin case could lead to better police hiring and training, more trust between police and communities and make the public and future jurors more reception to complaints about police interactions with minorities, this case “ doesn’t address deep-rooted issues of race and violence affecting police interactions with minorities [and does not] . . . result in charges or convictions against officers, according to Sheila A.Bedi, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, Director of its Community Justice & Civil Rights Clinic and an attorney in use-of-force lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department.

Another professor of criminal justice, Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University, pointed out that since 2005 only 11 non-federal law officers, including Chauvin, have been convicted of murder for on-duty conduct, the nine who were sentenced before Chauvin received sentences ranging from six years to life behind bars with the median being 15 years.

Floyd Family Attorney’s Reaction. Ben Crump, the attorney for the Floyd family, called for a federal conviction of Chauvin that might lead to a longer sentence.

Conclusion

We now wait to see the results of any appeal of this conviction and sentencing by Chauvin; the results of the August trial of the other three ex-officers in state court and any subsequent appeals; developments in the federal court criminal cases against the four ex-policemen; and the details of any guilty plea agreements by any or all of the four men.[6]

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[1] Sentencing Order and Memorandum Opinion, State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court, Dist. Ct. , File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (June 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial:  Week Seven (Conviction), dwkcommentaries.com (April 21, 2021).

[2] Ibid; Derek Chauvin Trial: Week Four, dwkcommentaries.com (April 2, 2021). Derek Chauvin Trial: Court finds Aggravating Factors for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 12, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Arguments About Sentencing of Chauvin, dwkcommentaries.com (June 7, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Issues for Sentencing, dwkcommentaries.com (June 18, 2021);

[3] Olson, Xioing & Walsh, Chauvin Sentenced to 22 ½ years for the murder of George Floyd, StarTribune (June 26, 2021).

[4] State v. Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court, Dist. Ct. File 27-CR-20-12646 (June 24, 2021); AP. Judge rejects Chauvin request for new trial in Floyd death, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021); Xiong, Former officer Derek Chauvin faces sentencing Friday afternoon; judge denies defense motion for new trial, StarTribune (June 25, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Defendant’s Motion for New Trial and Impeachment of Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 5 2021).

[5]  Ellison, Opinion: Derek Chauvin is going to prison. Let this be a turning point, Wash. Post (June 26, 2021); Goodnough, Biden calls long prison sentence for Derek Chauvin ‘appropriate,’ N.Y. Times (June 25, 2021); Editorial, Opinion: Derek Chauvin is headed to prison. But that is not enough, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021); Webber (AP), Experts: Impact of Chauvin case on policing yet to be seen, Wash. Post (June 26, 2021); Assoc. Press, Floyd family lawyer calls for federal conviction for Chauvin, Wash. Post (June 25, 2021).

[6] This blog has covered all of the details in these cases and intends to continue doing so. (See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.