Parties’ Latest Reactions to Issues for Trial in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On November 5, the Hennepin County District Court issued five significant orders regarding the joint criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao over the killing of George Floyd. These orders (1) granted the State’s motion for a joint trial of the four defendants; (2) preliminarily denied the defendants’ motions for change of venue; (3) provided for  juror anonymity and sequestration; (4) allowed audio and video coverage of the trial; and (5) narrowed its previous order regarding four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s participation in the cases.[1]

On November 16, various motions and briefs were submitted objecting to the recent orders for a joint trial and allowing audio and video coverage of the trial as well as the pending motions for allowance of evidence of prior incidents of the four defendants and of Mr. Floyd. The most significant of these papers, in this blogger’s judgment, was Thomas Lane’s motion for reconsideration of the order for a joint trial of the four defendants, which, therefore, will be discussed first.

Lane’s Motion To Reconsider Joinder for Trial[2]

Lane argued that the order for joinder is premature as it does not consider the prejudice that will be caused by admission of evidence of prior incidents involving the other three defendants, none of which involved Lane.

Most significantly, Lane asserted that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that he will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. (Emphasis added.) (This is believed to be the first time that any of the defendants has pointed the finger at Chauvin, the principal actor in the death of Floyd.)

Moreover, said Lane’s attorney, the Court’s opinion regarding aiding and abetting liability was erroneous since it was inconsistent with a 2014 opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, which, among other things, said such liability requires the defendant to have “advance knowledge that a crime is being committed.” (Emphasis added.)[3]

Finally, according to Lane’s attorney, a recently disclosed FBI report about its July 8th interview of Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, contains significant points helpful to Lane and the other defendants.. Here are this blogger’s extracts of that report with emphasis on the points helpful to the defendants.

  • Baker’s office’s press release about its examination of Floyd’s body apparently mentioned ”cardiopulmonary arrest,” which “for a lay person would be the stopping of the heart and lungs. Other factors that contributed to Floyd’s cardiopulmonary arrest included hypertension, the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as well as arteriosclerotic heart disease.”(P. 038777) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The term ‘complicating’ in the case title was a medical term meaning occurring after, during, or as a result of.” (P. 03877)
  • Baker defined the mechanism of death as Floyd’s heart and lungs stopping due to the combined effects of his health problems as well as the exertion involved in Floyd’s interaction with police prior to being on the groun” (Pp. 038777-78.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no evidence that Floyd’s airway was literally blocked shut. When viewing the body camera footage, the pressure did not appear to be directly over Floyd’s airway. Floyd would have been unable to speak if pressure was directly over his airway.” (P. 03778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Officer Chauvin’s positioning on Floyd’s body does not fit anatomically with occluding Floyd’s airway.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • There was no anatomic evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck but that does not rule out that pressure was applied by Chauvin.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • The absence of petechiae weighs against strangulation.” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that that Floyd had no injury to . . .[his lower buttocks or upper end of Floyd’s thigh which were being held by Kueng].” (P. 038778) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker noted that there was no relation to Floyd’s cause of death by Lane’s position [on Floyd’s feet].” (P. 038778.) (Emphasis added.)
  • “The struggle between officers and Floyd weighed into Baker’s opinion because physical exertion increases heart rate, releases adrenaline, and increases respiratory rate as well as cardiac demand. All of these things increased the likelihood of a bad outcome.” (P. 038778.)
  • Baker had no opinion on when Floyd became critical or near death.” (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker did not believe that the prone position was any more dangerous than other positions based on an article or journal he had read. “ (P. 038780.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Baker could not provide an answer on a ‘but for’ cause [of death]. (P. 038781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • Absent suspicious circumstances, if Floyd had been found dead in his bed with the level of fentanyl in his blood that was present for this autopsy, it may be classified aa fentanyl fatality due to the level of fentanyl.” (P. 039781.) (Emphasis added.)
  • When a death was labeled a homicide, it was not a legal ruling being made. The label was classified as such for public health reasons.” (P. 0388782.) (Emphasis added.)

Parties’ Battle Over Evidence of Defendants’ Prior Incidents[4]

 The State previously had argued for admission of evidence of eight separate incidents involving Chauvin’s actions in the course of his duties as a Minneapolis Police Officer. On November 16 the State submitted a supplemental argument in support of such evidence in light of its obtaining the body worn camera videos for one of those incidents that are relevant to show modus operandi, intent and lack of mistake and rebut any defense of reasonable use of force and that their probative value outweighs any potential unfair prejudice.

Lane’s objection to such evidence was just discussed.

In addition,  Chauvin’s attorney argued that these incidents are inadmissible to show his intent in the Floyd case or his alleged knowledge of the need to move Floyd from the prone position or a common scheme or plan or modus operandi and that evidence of such incidents is cumulative and unfairly prejudicial.

State’s Objection to Evidence of  Floyd’s Prior Incident with Minneapolis Police[5]

All Defendants intend to offer evidence of George Floyd’s May 6, 2019, incident with the Minneapolis Police Department even though the Court at the September 11, 2020, hearing held that such evidence was inadmissible. The State said the Court’s prior decision was correct and that the defendants intend to offer this evidence at trial was for the improper purpose of attacking Floyd’s character and suggesting he had a propensity to commit crimes or should be punished for his prior actions; that the prior incident does not show Floyd’s common scheme or plan in the incident that led to his death; that his state of mind in the prior incident is irrelevant; that the unfair prejudice of evidence of that prior incident far outweighs its probative value and that the defendants’ other arguments for such evidence are unpersuasive.

State’s Objection to Audio and Video Trial Coverage[6]

The State asked the Court for reconsideration of its order for audio and video coverage of the trial. The motion provided no reasons for that motion other than its previous objection to such coverage under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 4.02(d) and a brief to be filed on or before November 30.

A StarTribune editorial, however, supported this court order. It said, “It is in the best interest of trial participants and the public for this high-profile trial to be as accessible as possible. . . . [Judge] Cahill’s ruling is well-reasoned and fair.”

Reactions

An important reason for the Court’s November 5th order for a joint trial of the four defendants was there was no indication at that stage of the proceedings “that any of the Defendants is likely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive.” Now, however, Defendant Lane has stated that his  defense will be antagonistic to Chauvin in that Lane will be “pointing the finger” at Chauvin and that if Lane had known of Chauvin’s prior incidents, Lane would have acted differently. This latest statement, therefore, is a serious challenge to the wisdom of a joint trial.

In addition, Lane’s disclosure of the FBI memorandum of its interview of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, assuming it accurately reflects what the Examiner said, provides boosters for the defense and problems for the prosecution.

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[1] Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020).

[2]  Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Exhibit A [FBI Memorandum], Lane Objection to Spreigl and Motion to Reconsider Joinder Order,  State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020).

[3]  This case was Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 64 (2014), which requires close analysis.

[4]  State’s Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Chauvin’s] Objection to State’s Proposed Introduction of Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Kueng’s]Objection to the State’s 404(b) Evidence, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Thao’s] Memorandum in Opposition to State’s Motion for Spreigl Evidence Against Mr. Thao, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 Nov. 16, 2020); Defendant’s [Lane’s] Objection to the State’s Spreigl Notice and Motion to Reconsider the Court’s Order for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Nov. 16, 2020); Jany, Seeking to show pattern of excessive force by Chauvin, prosecutors cite incident with 14-year-old boy who couldn’t breathe, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020);Bailey, Former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death seeks to bar evidence of past neck and body restraints, Wash. Post (Nov. 17, 2020).

[5] State’s Response Opposing Defendants’ Motions To Admit Spreigl Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020).

[6] State’s Motion for Reconsideration, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 Nov. 16, 2020) State asks judge to reconsider permission for audio, video coverage of officers’ trial in George Floyd Killing, StarTribune (Nov. 16, 2020); Editorial, A victory for courtroom access in George Floyd case, StarTribune (Nov. 17, 2020).

Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing

On November 5, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill issued five significant orders relating to the trial in the criminal cases against the four former Minneapolis policemen involved in the killing of George Floyd: Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. [1]

These orders (1) granted the State’s motion for a joint trial of the four defendants; 2) preliminarily denied the defendants’ motions for change of venue; (3) provided for  juror anonymity and sequestration; (4) allowed audio and video coverage of the trial; and (5) narrowed its previous order regarding four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s participation in the cases.

These five orders will be reviewed below.

                  Joint Trial of the Four Defendants[2]

The 51-page Order and Memorandum Opinion sets forth the Factual Background and then Discussion of the four-factor test for joinder established by the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Minnesota case law. The following is the Court’s Summary of that detailed discussion (pp. 4-5).

“The first factor weighs strongly in favor of joinder because of the similarity of the charges and evidence against all four Defendants.” Indeed, “the critical evidence at trial”—body-cam videos of three of the defendants and cell-phone video of a bystander; Minneapolis Police Department Policies and Procedures and Training Manuals; autopsy reports and medical and forensic testimony about the circumstances and causes of Floyd’s death; and eyewitness testimony—”will be the same for all four Defendants.”

“The second factor slightly favors joinder in view of the impact of conducting four separate trials . . . would have on eyewitnesses if . .. [they] were forced to relive the events of May 25, 2020, by testifying to the same events at multiple trials,” especially since one of these witnesses is a minor.

“The third factor also strongly favors joinder because there is no indication at this stage of the proceedings that any of the Defendants is likely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive.”

The “fourth factor also strongly favors joinder because conducting four separate trials arising from the same underlying incident and involving the same evidence and the same witnesses would result in unwarranted delay and impose unnecessary burdens on the State, the court, and the witnesses. Moreover, in wake of the unprecedented . . . scope of the publicity [about these cases] . . . if trials were to proceed separately for each Defendant, trial-related publicity surrounding the first trial (and succeeding trials) could potentially compound the difficulty of selecting a fair and impartial jury in all subsequent trials. Thus, the interests of justice also warrant joinder.”

Preliminary Denial of Change of Venue[3]

 The Court considered two factors in preliminarily deny the Defendants’ motions to change venue and transfer the case from Hennepin County to another district court in Minnesota: prejudicial publicity and safety concerns of the defendants and their attorneys.

With respect to the first factor, the Court took “judicial notice that the death of George Floyd has generated thousands of articles, reports and commentary in Minnesota, the entire United States, and internationally.” (n. 10.) As a result, “no corner of the State of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd. Because of that pervasive media coverage, a change of venue is unlikely to cure the taint of potentially prejudicial pretrial publicity. Nevertheless, this is only a preliminary ruling and the parties are free to present the evidence from public opinion surveys they are presently conducting. In addition, this Court is planning to issue jury summons earlier than usual and to require summoned jurors to fill out questionnaires well before trial to gauge their knowledge of the case and any potential bias.”

The second factor—safety concerns—calls for “better safety planning,” which is currently being conducted by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Court. The safety concerns regarding the 9/11/20 hearing at the smaller Hennepin County Family Justice Center with limited entrances and exits suggests it is more difficult to enhance security at such facilities, which would be true if the cases were transferred to a smaller county. Having the trial at the Hennepin county Government Center would facilitate tighter control of floor access and movement. In short, the “Court believes that safety issues can be mitigated to the point that a fair and safe trial may be had in Hennepin County and a jury can be insulated from outside influence and remain impartial.”

Juror Anonymity and Sequestration[4]

After reviewing the extensive publicity about the death of Mr. Floyd and these cases and related protest and unsolicited ex parte communications to the Court and counsel, there are “strong reasons to believe that threats to jurors’ safety and impartiality exist“ in these cases and that “all reasonable means should be taken to insulate the jury from such ex parte contacts.

Therefore, the Court ordered the “jurors’ names, addresses and other identifying information . .. [to] . . .be kept confidential  by the Court and all parties throughout the trial and deliberation” After the conclusion of the trial, any information about the jurors shall be disclosed only after a “subsequent written Order” by the Court.

Each Defendant shall have five preemptory challenges of prospective jurors, and the State twelve such challenges. There will be four alternate jurors.

The jurors will be partially sequestered during trial with possible full sequestration if the partial plan “proves ineffective in keeping jurors free from outside influence.” In addition, during jury deliberations at the end of the trial, there shall be full sequestration.

Audio and Video Coverage of the Trial [5]

 The trial shall commence on March 8, 2021, and “may be recorded, broadcast, and livestreamed in audio and video subject to the conditions” contained in the order.

Order Regarding Hennepin County Attorneys[6]

The Court’s oral order removing four members of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office from these cases is vacated although they may not “appear as advocates in the trials and may not sign any motions or pleadings in these cases.

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[1] Olson, Ex-officers charged in George Floyd case to be tried together in Hennepin County, cameras allowed in courtroom, StarTribune (Oct. 5, 2020).

[2] Order and Memorandum Opinion Granting State’s Motion for Trial Joinder, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[3] Preliminary Order Regarding Change of Venue, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[4] Order for Juror Anonymity and Sequestration, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[5] Order Allowing Audio and Video Coverage of Trial, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

[6] Order, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646, Hennepin County District Court (Nov. 5, 2020).

Court Sustains Most Charges in George Floyd Criminal Cases  

On October 21, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, with one exception, denied the four defendants’ motions to dismiss all criminal charges for alleged lack of probable cause in the George Floyd criminal cases. The exception was the charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, which was dismissed. These orders and the reasons for same are contained in the Court’s 107-page Order and Opinion on the four defendants’’ motions to dismiss for lack of probable cause.[1]

In so doing, the Court properly stressed that under Minnesota law its evaluation of  these dismissal motions is “to assess whether the State has come forward with sufficient admissible evidence on each element of the charges . . .to warrant binding each of the Defendants over for trial . . . to accept as true all the allegations made by the State in its Statements of Probable Cause . . . [and to] draw in the State’s favor all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from those facts.” (Pp. 7-8.)

Here, we will review the main points in the court’s sustaining the charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter against Derek Chauvin and the charges against the other three defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thau) for aiding and abetting these charges. Discussion of the dismissal of the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin will be left to the newspaper articles that are cited below.

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Murder Against Chauvin

 Under the above standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause that the prosecution had established probable cause for the following requirements for this crime: (i) Floyd died; (ii) “Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial causal factor in Floyd’s death;” (iii) “Chauvin intentionally inflicted or attempted to inflict bodily harm on Floyd or intended to cause Floyd to fear immediate bodily harm or death;: and (iv) “Chauvin inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd.” (Pp. 35-53.)

In the process of reaching these conclusions, the Court said: (i) “Chauvin never relented and never lessened the pressure of his knee against Floyd’s neck even when Floyd pleaded: ‘I can’t breathe. Please, your knew in my neck’’” (p. 39); and (ii) “Notwithstanding Floyd having gone silent and motionless, the mounting evidence of his lost consciousness, the plaintiff cries and demands from the bystanders, and the obvious reality that Floyd was no longer resisting or non-compliant, Chauvin’s demeanor never changed, and he continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck applying constant pressure to pin Floyd’s face to the pavement for an additional two and a half minutes” (p. 41).

These statements followed  the Court’s “Factual Background,” which stated, in part, the following:

  • “The Critical Nine Plus Minutes between 8:19:18 and 8:28:42 P.M.: Floyd Is Subdued and Restrained Prone in the Street, with Chauvin Kneeling on the Back of Floyd’s Neck, Pinning His Face to the Street, Kueng and Lane Restraining and Pinning Floyd’s Back and Legs to the Street, and Thao Maintaining Bystander Watch.” (p. 22).
  • “Floyd uttered his final words ‘Please,’ at 8:23:55 p.m., and ‘I can’t breathe,’at 8:23:59 p.m.. . . Floyd then fell silent.”  (p. 25.)
  • “Even after Floyd ceased talking and moving and went limp, Defendants maintained their positions.” (p. 25)
  • “As Floyd lost consciousness and shortly before uttering his final words, Lane asked Chauvin and Kueng: ‘Should we roll him on his side?’ Citing concern ‘about the exited delirium or whatever . . .[and] Chauvin rejected Lane’s suggestion, stating that the ambulance was en route.” (p. 25)
  • “Neither Lane nor Kueng did anything to challenge Chauvin’s answer. Instead, they remained in the same position and continued to hold down Floyd’s back and legs.” (p. 25)
  • “After hearing the bystanders’ pleas to check Floyd for a pulse [8:25:40-8-8:26:05 p.m.], Lane asked Kueng if he could detect a pulse. After checking Floyd’s wrist for about ten seconds, Kueng reported: ‘I can’t find one [a pulse].[8:25:45-8:26:00].” (p. 27.)
  • “Kueng continued to check Floyd for a pulse. About ten seconds later, Kueng sighed, leaned back slightly, and repeated: ‘I can’t find one.” [8:26:07-12.] (p. 27.)
  • “[8:26:12-18] Upon learning that Keung could not find a pulse, Chauvin squeezed Floyd’s fingers. Floyd did not respond.” (p. 27/)
  • “Even though Floyd remained unresponsive, the Defendants did not move from their positions. They continued to restrain Floyd—Chauvin with his left knee pressed firmly into Floyd’s neck, Kueng kneeling on Floyd’s back, and Lane holding Floyd’s legs—while Thao kept bystanders back on the sidewalk. They also ignored the off-duty firefighter’s urgent demands that they check Floyd for a pulse and begin chest compressions if he had no pulse. . . None of the Defendants ever attempted PR while Floyd was on the ground.” (pp. 27-28)
  • “At 8:27 p.m., an ambulance arrived on the scene. . . . Still, Chauvin, Kueng, Lane, and Thao did not move from their positions. . . . Indeed, even as Lane explained to emergency personnel that Floyd was ‘not responsive right now,’ Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck (8:27:36-38).” (p. 28)
  • “[F]or more than a minute after the emergency personnel arrived, Chauvin continued to press Floyd face-down into the pavement, Lane knelt over Floyd’s legs, and Thao continued to push back the crowd.” (p. 28)
  • At 8:28:42 p.m., when the stretcher was ready, Chauvin finally stood up, removing his knee from Floyd’s neck. . . .Floyd remained unresponsive.” (p. 28)
  • “In total, Floyd was subdued, pinned face-down in the street—with Chauvin’s knee pressing into his neck and Kueng and Lane restraining his back and legs—for more than nine minutes and twenty seconds.(8:19:18-8:28:42 p.m.) For over four minutes and forty seconds, Floyd did not speak. (8:24:00-8:28:42) For almost three and a half minutes, Floyd appeared not to be breathing. (8:25:15-8:28:42 p.m.) And for more than two and a half minutes, the Defendants were unable to locate a pulse. (8:25:10-8:28:42). Yet over that entire time period, Defendants remained in the same positions: Chauvin continued to kneel with his left knee pressed firmly down on Floyd’s neck pinning Floyd’s face into the street, Kueng and Lane remained atop Floyd’s back and legs, and Thao continued to prevent the crowd of concerned citizens from interceding.” (p. 29)

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Murder Against Other Defendants

 Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded “the evidence the State relies upon is sufficient for probable cause purposes for the State’s charges that Thao, Lane and Kueng each independently aided and abetted Floyd’s second-degree unintentional murder by Chauvin.” (p. 79.)

The previously discussed evidence supports a potential jury conclusion “that Lane knew Chauvin was intentionally committing an assault that inflicted substantial bodily harm on Floyd”  and that “Lane  intended to aid Chauvin in the assault on Floyd.” (Pp. 79-91.) The same was true for Kueng (pp 91-94) and Thao (pp. 94-99).

Additional comments on Thao were required because “at no point was he involved in the efforts to physically restrain Floyd. Rather, his role was primarily to maintain watch over the growing crowd of bystanders.”  (Pp. 94-99.) But “a jury could conclude, on the basis of the evidence, that Thao knew that Chauvin was intentionally inflicting substantial bodily harm on Floyd” and that Chauvin’s continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck for minutes after he had ceased talking, moving, or breathing and knowing that Kueng had not been able to detect a pulse was contrary to MPD policy and could not be a considered a justifiable use of reasonable force.” Moreover, under Minnesota cases, “Active participation in the overt act that constitutes the substantive offense—here, the assault—is not a requirement for aiding and abetting liability” and that “’the lookout’ . . ‘is a classic example’ of an ‘aider and abetter.’”

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Chauvin

 Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Floyd died and that Chauvin caused that death “by culpable negligence, whereby Chauvin created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm.” (Pp. 67- 75.)

Finding Probable Cause for Charge of Aiding and Abetting Second-Degree Manslaughter Against Other Defendants

Under the previously cited standard for evaluating such dismissal motions, the court concluded that there was probable cause for the charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter because there was sufficient evidence for (i) Chauvin’s causing Floyd’s death by culpable negligence, whereby he created and unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; (ii) the other three defendants “knew Chauvin by his culpable negligence, created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm; “ and (iii) the other three defendants “intended that . . .[their] presence or actions aided Chauvin’s commission of that crime.” (Pp.  99-107)

Conclusion

To this retired lawyer bystander, this Order and Memorandum is exceptionally well reasoned, documented and written. Moreover, I think it implicitly signals that the Judge will deny the defense motions to change venue (unless the demonstrations and protests get further out-of-line) and grant the prosecution’s motion for a joint trial of the four cases. An implicit or explicit consideration for Judge Cahill’s deciding the change of venue motions by the four defendants would have to be not wanting to impose the immense burden that would be placed on another district court in the state in taking on this complex case in which so much already has happened.

If I were representing one of these defendants, I would be very worried about my chances for success at trial.

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[1] Order and Memorandum Opinion on Defense Motions To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court (Oct. 21, 2020); Xiong, Ex-Minneapolis police charged in George Floyd’s killing will go to trial; one count against Derek Chauvin dropped, judge rules, StarTribune (Oct. 22, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Dismisses a Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd’s Death, W.S.J. (Oct. 22, 2020); Ismay, Judge Dismisses Third-Degree Murder Charge in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2020);  Bailey, Judge dismisses third-degree murder charge against officer in George Floyd’s death: upholds more serious charge, Wash. Post (Oct. 22, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases

Developments in the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd through September 18, have been discussed or cited in a previous post.[1] Here are the further developments in the cases over the last two weeks.

Change Venue To Protect Defendants’ Safety [2]

The most significant development has been J. Alexander Kueng’s attorney’s October 1st argument that the case should be moved from Hennepin County to another county in order to protect the defendants’ safety. The following was the asserted factual basis for this supplemental argument:

  • For the September 11th hearing, “no recognizable plan was in place in advance of the hearing to assure the safe and orderly entry of CoDefendants or Co-Counsel into the courthouse.”
  • “ Chauvin, who is in custody, was subjected to a degree of humiliation by being paraded in public dressed in jail cloths and body armor.”
  • “Attorneys and Defendants were harassed upon arrival and departure from the courthouse.”
  • Attorneys “ Paule and Mr. Thao were followed for several blocks by jeering protestors when departing. . . .[Attorneys] Gray, Plunkett, and their respective clients were harassed. Gray and Lane were physically assaulted.”
  • “A privately owned vehicle sustained nearly $2,000.00 worth of damage from the violent rioters.”
  • “A rioter also used video from the event to dox [slang: publishing the private personal information of another person] one of the parties.”
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doxing
  • “Before leaving the courthouse, counsel conferred with court security to get advice on how they should safely leave the area. Court security suggested they wait until after The Floyd family and their attorney had addressed the crowd. This advice did not make sense, and, if followed, caused greater concern for attorney and client safety. Counsel rightfully believed that these speeches would incite the crowd making their departure far more risky and tempt rioters to storm the courthouse.”

Under Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defense attorney argued, “a change of venue may be granted in the interests of justice,” and under cited Minnesota Supreme Court cases, “Where there is reason to believe that it will be impossible to obtain a fair and impartial trial in the county selected because of local prejudices, feelings, and opinions, the ends of justice require that a change of venue be granted.”

If the trial were held in Hennepin County, said the defense attorney, “the jury will be influenced by the screaming and yelling of the crowds that could be heard from the first floor during the motions hearing. . . . Witnesses will be intimidated as they have to walk the gauntlet before they testify. Defense witnesses will be reluctant to testify if providing exculpatory evidence will subject them to rioting, assaults and dox attacks.”

“The defendants have to reasonably question whether the chants and crowds will impact the decisions of the judge and jury in their case as the people that will decide their case pass through the rioters during weeks of trial.”

“The defendants and their lawyers cannot safely enter and exit the courthouse. Parties were physically assaulted after a simple motions hearing. During trial, tensions are going to be even higher. The lawyers will be carrying notebooks, computers, law books and other materials to help defend their clients, which will make it more difficult for them to avoid the angry crowds.”

“As demonstrated by the September 11th hearing, the Court simply cannot control the rioters and protesters who have taken to the streets of Minneapolis. This Court must grant a change of venue to a county where the defendants can obtain a fair trial free from the riots and crowds that will occur if he is tried in Hennepin County.”

Presumably the other three defendants will support this argument and the State will attempt to counter it, presumably be identifying security measures that will be imposed.

Prior Acts of Chauvin, Kueng and Thao [3]

Another significant development was the State’s notice of intent to offer evidence of eight other instances of Chauvin’s alleged use of force to prove his intent, knowledge;  common scheme or plan and modus operandi; one instance of Kueng’s use of force to prove knowledge and intent; and nine instance of Thao’s conduct to prove expediency, dishonesty and refusal to respond to training.

The State also said it intends prior to trial to file a separate memorandum in support of the admission of this evidence and that it “may offer evidence of other acts, instances of specific conduct, and prior convictions” of the defendants.”

The defendants have not yet responded to this notice, except in their additional arguments against joinder of the cases for trial, as discussed below.

Additional Arguments Against Joinder of Cases for Trial [4]

As previously discussed, the court at the September 11 hearing heard arguments for and against the State’s motion to join all four cases for one trial. Now two of the defendants have submitted additional opposing briefs.

Chauvin’s attorney argued that the State’s intent to offer evidence of eight prior acts of Chauvin and of prior acts of two of the other defendants (Kueng and Thao) demonstrates that “a majority of the evidence will not be admissible against all defendants” and, therefore, contradicting the State’s argument for joinder. In addition, Chauvin would be prejudiced by the other defendants attempts to blame Chauvin.

Kueng’s attorney argues that the State’s intent to use evidence of prior bad acts by Chauvin and Thao would prejudice Kueng because such evidence could be used against Kueng and he could use the evidence in a manner in which the State would be prohibited.

Thomas Lane Case  [5]

Lane’s attorney noticed his intent to offer evidence of Lane’s good character in a January 2020 encounter with a homeless Black individual in a wheelchair.

Alexander Kueng Case [6]

In addition to his previously mentioned additional argument for change of venue, Kueng has filed an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals from the district court’s denial of his request for public funding of fees for services other than counsel.

 Press Articles about Defendants [7]

There also have been press articles about the defendants.

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

[1] See Developments in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2020).

[2] Supplemental Memorandum Notice of Motion and Motion To Change Venue, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12933 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Oct. 1, 2020); Olson, Crowd swarms former Minneapolis police officers with shouts of ‘Murderer!’, StarTribune (Sept. 11, 2020); Forliti, Lawyer: Unruly crowd warrants venue change in Floyd case, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Xiong, Protesters assaulted former officer charged in George Floyd’s killing and defense attorney, court filing alleges, StarTribune (Oct. 2, 2020). 

[3] State’s Amended Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 25, 2020).

[4] Defendant’s [Kueng’s] Memorandum—Effect of the State’s Spreigl Notice of Joinder, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020); [Chauvin’s} Memorandum of Law Regarding the Effect of the State’s Spreigl Notice of Its Joinder Motion, State v. Chauvin, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020).

[5] Defendant Thomas Lane Notice of Intent To Offer Character Evidence, State v.Lane, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 30, 2020).

[6] Appellate Notice of Case Filing, State v. Kueng, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 22, 2020 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept. 22, 2020); Appellate Notice of Court Filing, State V. Kueng, File #27-CR-20-12953 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 22, 2020); Request for Trial Court Record-Appellate Court, State v. Kueng, File A20-1225 (Minn. Ct. App. (Sept. 24, 2020); Appellate Exhibit List, State v. Kueg, Court File No.: 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County District Court Sept.25, 2020).

[7] Chanen, Trouble signs showed up early in the career of fired Minneapolis police officer Tou Thau. StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2020); Xiong, [Kueng’s] Former officer’s failure to stop the deadly restraint of George Floyd leaves friends perplexed, StarTribune, StarTribune (Sept. 13, 2020).

The Four George Floyd Criminal Cases Should Remain in Minneapolis

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill in his Minneapolis chambers is considering whether the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd  should remain in Minneapolis for further proceedings and trial or be transferred to another Minnesota state court. This is the key issue in the judge’s deciding the pending motions for change of venue submitted by the four defendants—Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao—and vigorously opposed by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.[1]

Outside the court a strong argument for the cases remaining in Minneapolis–where Floyd’s killing occurred, where the defendants worked and where the witnesses reside– has been put forth by a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and now a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (both based in Minneapolis), Rachel K. Paulose.[2] Here are the highlights of her argument.

“Trial venue is not a minor procedural issue. It matters because the people’s voice matters. The arguments by those charged in Floyd’s death could be raised by any high-profile defendant seeking to evade local oversight in any trial court in the United States. If venue is changed routinely in police brutality cases, there is a grave danger that citizens will lack the power to hold police forces accountable when a rogue officer fails to behave lawfully.”

“Why are the defendants so desperate to run away from the Twin Cities? The defendants claim “an impartial jury cannot be seated for the trial” in Minneapolis because of the saturated media coverage and ensuing protests. This claim is misguided for at least three reasons.”

“First, bystanders filmed Floyd’s death in a video that went viral on a global scale. No city in Minnesota, the United States and perhaps the entire Internet-connected world would be immune from the Floyd defendants’ concerns of a jury pool irretrievably biased by excessive media coverage.”

“Interestingly, [counsel for the four ex-officers concede] . . . the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that a change of venue is not warranted in a case where ‘no evidence had been provided to indicate that any part of Minnesota had been shielded from publicity.’ Faced with case law that requires the opposite of what they seek, the Floyd defendants are left to argue the rules must be bent for them: ‘The legal standard needs to be altered.’”

“Second, while protesting the nonstop media coverage, the attorney for Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, objects to the gag order in this case, asserting it “prevents any mitigating or exculpatory information from entering the public conversation.” What is that mitigating information? Apparently, based on further filings, Chauvin and a co-defendant want to raise claims of Floyd’s purported drug use, violence and criminal record. It cannot be that the defendants may have it both ways, arguing that they have suffered from too much (adverse) publicity and inadequate (positive) publicity.”

“Third, and perhaps most significant, the jury demographic pool changes dramatically outside the Twin Cities metro area, in a way that is likely helpful to the defendants and harmful to Floyd. The Census Bureau estimates that Hennepin County, where Floyd died, is 14 percent Black and 74 percent White. Hennepin County is the most diverse county in the state, and it would be nearly impossible to seat an all-White jury in Minneapolis. By contrast, the three rural counties where one of the defendants has suggested in his motion to change venue have Black populations of less than 1 percent to 4 percent.”

“Jury pools that do not share the same community dynamics of Floyd’s home deny the people of Minneapolis their interest in achieving justice in this case. Minneapolis streets burned in response to Floyd’s death. Minneapolis businesses, many minority-owned, suffered the brunt of the unrest that resulted when politicians pulled back from protecting the city. The people of Minneapolis are still dealing with the consequences for law enforcement and their own safety.”

“Sadly, police brutality is not unique to Minneapolis. Nor are the demographic patterns in metropolitan vs. rural areas unique to Minnesota. The risks posed by changing venues in police brutality cases are painfully evident. These cases are hard for prosecutors to win in any event, and a loss carries with it the threat of violent reaction by an angry community that believes justice has been denied. In 1992, Los Angeles exploded in anger after widespread suspicion that a venue change from Los Angeles to Simi Valley, Calif., led to the acquittal of four police officers charged with beating Rodney King. The Bill of Rights applies to “We the People of the United States” and not just to criminal defendants. The framers of the Constitution are unlikely to have foreseen the complexities of our digital age, but they trusted the American people to control every branch of their government, including the judiciary through the Sixth Amendment jury trial guarantee.”

“As a woman of color, I was heartbroken to see the images of Floyd’s dying moments. As a former U.S. attorney and civil servant privileged to work with many honorable law enforcement officers, I am concerned by the prospect of police facing the wrath of angry protesters because of the actions of four men in Minneapolis. It is because I support law enforcement and uphold the Constitution that I am convinced that those who abuse their authority must answer for their actions to their own constituents. The trial must remain in Minneapolis.”

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

[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Preview of the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 10, 2020); Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases (Sept. 12, 2020).

[2] Paulose, The Trial of George Floyd’s alleged killers must stay in Minneapolis, Wash. Post (Sept. 21, 2020).

 

More Details on 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases

Yesterday’s post and comment provided a preview for today’s hearing.[1] Here are some more details for the hearing, again following the Agenda for the hearing.

State’s Motions

  1. Motion for Joint Trial.[2]

On September 10, the State submitted a 28-page reply in support of its motion for a joint trial, but time constraints do not allow for its examination and summary in this post.

One of the issues for this motion is whether or not the defendants have antagonistic defenses. Here are more details on that issue.

Chauvin’s attorney has said that his client did not know the full picture of what was happening when he and Thao arrived later on the scene to find Lane and Kueng struggling to get Floyd into the back seat of their squad car. The attorney also suggested that these other two had mishandled the scene by not doing enough to try to calm Floyd, by failing to administer naloxone and by  delaying the request for an ambulance and thereby causing the death.

Chauvin and Thao also may argue that as late arrivals on the scene they were deferring to Lane and Kueng irrespective of their lack of seniority and rank.

Thao will emphasize his “human traffic cone” role while the other three were physically restraining Floyd.

Lawyers for Lane and Kueng, both rookies, have emphasized that they were following the orders of their superior, Chauvin, and that Lane twice tried to intervene to get Floyd turned over, but Chauvin refused. Kueng also may testify about faulty training by Chauvin on how to handle a detention while Kueng and Thao may point to the history of 18 complaints about Chauvin’s conduct as an officer.

Lane’s attorney said, “It is plausible that all officers have a different version of what happened and officers place blame on one another.”

All four, however, apparently are arguing that Floyd’s death was accelerated by drugs in his system

Defendants’ Motions

  1. Discovery Motions.[3]

Late on September 9, the State submitted a response to such motions from all four defendants. Here are its main points:

  • The State already had disclosed the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s complete file and that although the State had no obligation to disclose the autopsy reports by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and by experts retained by the Floyd family (Drs. Baden and Wilson), the State had asked these persons for these documents and if they are so provided, the State would provide them to the defendants.
  • With respect to Floyd’s 5/5/19 incident with the MPD, the State had requested any body worn camera footage from the MPD and, if it exists, it would be provided; the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has no record of a referral for prosecution; and any other prosecuting agencies are not within the State’s control.
  • The State stated there is no factual basis for the request for documents on Floyd’s acting as an informant and gang affiliations and the requests were denied.
  • If possible, the State will produce the MPD training PowerPoints in the original format.
  • The State denied the request for the State’s document indices as privileged attorney work product.
  • The State already has produced the MPD Internal Affairs Public Summaries for all four defendants, but opposes any other disclosure.

Conclusion

On a separate note, there are planned protests near the courthouse on the day of the hearing. As a result, windows on government buildings have been boarded up and law enforcement officials are setting up a perimeter to keep protesters at a distance.

In fact, the hearing will be held in the nearby Family Justice Center, where the Hennepin County Family Court is located, in downtown Minneapolis.

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

[1] Preview of 9/11/20 Hearing for George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 10, 2020); Comment: Rule 44 Evidence Motions: More Details, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 10, 2020). See also Xiong, Several key issues at stake Friday morning in Hennepin County court hearing in George Floyd case, StarTribune (Sept. 10, 2020).; Collins, Judge to hear arguments Friday in Floyd killing case, MPRNews (Sept. 11, 2020).

[2]  State’s Reply in Support of Motion for Joinder, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin county District Ct. Sept. 10, 2020); Bailey, Former Officers charged in George Floyd killing turn blame on each other, Wash. Post (Sept. 10, 2020),

[3] State’s Response to Defendants’ Motions To Compel Disclosure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin county District Ct. Sept. 9, 2020)

Preview of  the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases

This preview will follow the Agenda for the 9/11/20 hearing in the four George Floyd criminal cases that has been set by the Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill.[1]

State’s Motions

  1. Motion for Joint Trial[2]

On August 12, the State asked the court to consolidate all four of the cases for one trial on the grounds that the charges and evidence in all four cases are similar; that there would be less negative impact on witnesses and family members; the defenses of the four ex-officers were not antagonistic; and the interests of justice would be advanced.

Unsurprisingly all of the four defendants are opposing this motion. Here is a summary of their arguments: Chauvin: other defendants likely to blame Chauvin, whose defenses are likely to blame the others and thus they are mutually antagonistic; trying Chauvin first is the sensible approach which would dictate the need for, and scope of, any other trials. Kueng: different evidence on whether and how the defendants worked in close concert; no particularly vulnerable witnesses; antagonistic defenses; interests of justice do not favor joinder. Lane: likely antagonistic defenses with each defendant having different version of what happened and who is to blame, forcing jury to choose between defendants’ testimonies. Thao: Minnesota has favored separate trials; unknown if “overwhelming majority” of evidence will be same in all the cases; Thao did not work in close concert with the others; impact on Floyd family is not a factor; nature of Floyd’s death does not favor joinder; antagonistic defenses are highly likely; COVID-19 favors separate trials with smaller gatherings at each.

  1. Motion to Submit Aggravating Factors to Jury (Blakely)[3]

Under Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 2996 (2004), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial can be violated any time the court imposes a sentence greater than that called for in the guidelines, even when the sentence imposed is below the maximum punishment permitted by the legislature.

On August 28, the State gave notice of its intent to seek an upward sentencing departure for Chauvin on the grounds that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and was treated with particular cruelty by Chauvin, that Chauvin abused his position of authority, committed the crime as part of a group of three or more offenders who actively participated in the crime and in the presence of multiple children.

  1. Motion for Expert Witness Disclosure[4]

On August 28, the State moved for establishing deadlines of disclosure of expert witnesses with the following suggestions: Initial Expert Disclosures (12/08/20) and full Expert Disclosures (01/08/21).

Defendants’ Motions

  1. Motions for Change of Venue[5]

All four defendants have moved for change of venue with the following arguments: Chauvin (excessive pretrial publicity in Twin Cities); Lane (transfer to Washington or Dakota County because fair trial impossible in Hennepin County); Thao (fair trial impossible In Hennepin County; change to St. Louis, Clay or Crow Wing County); Kueng (prejudicial publicly in Hennepin County; change to  another county “outside the seven-county metro area, such as Stearns County or another county with appropriate facilities and demographics”).

  1. Jury Sequestration and Anonymity Motion[6]

On August 28, Thao moved for jury sequestration and juror anonymity due to “the notoriety of the case.”

  1. Motion to Disqualify HCAO [Hennepin County Attorney’s Office][7]

The only apparent motion to disqualify the HCAO was filed on August 6 by the attorney for Kueng on the ground that the County Attorney had made prejudicial comments about the defendants, and the very next day (August 7) Judge Cahill denied the motion.

Thus, this must be an erroneous agenda item.

  1. Rule 404 Evidence Motions[8]

On August 27, Kueng gave notice that he may offer at trial evidence regarding  (1) the circumstances of (a) Floyd’s 05/06/19 arrest by MPD; (b) Floyd’s 05/06/19 medical intervention at Hennepin County Medical Center; and (c) Floyd’s 08/09/07 arrest and subsequent conviction in Texas for Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon.

  1. Discovery Motions[9] On August 24, Thao filed a motion to compel discovery of the following regarding the investigation and death of Floyd; (1) complete Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office file; (2) any and all reports and autopsies performed by Dr. Michael Baden; (3) any and all reports and autopsies performed by Dr. Allecia Wilson; and (4) entire Office of the Armed Forces Medical examiner file.

On August 28, Chauvin filed a motion for the State’s disclosure of (1) body worn camera/audio from MPD CN-201 9-127538 from Floyd’s arrest; (2) files pertaining to Floyd’s cooperation as an informant for the MPD, FBI or any other state or federal law enforcement agency; (3) files documenting Floyd’s activity as a gang member or affiliate within the past five years; (4) information regarding Floyd’s 05/06/19 drug possession/sale investigation; (5) training materials with active imbedded links to video portions; and (6) index to State’s document disclosures.

Administrative Matters

  1. Jury Selection
  • Method
  • Preemptory Challenges
  1. In-Court Presence/COVID-19 Restrictions
  2. Overflow rooms/Audio-Visual Coverage
  3. Overnight/Special Transcript Requests
  4. Trial Length/Daily Schedule

Substantive Matters

The Judge already has announced that the only substantive matters—the four defendants’ motions to dismiss for alleged lack of probable cause for the criminal charges—will be decided on the briefs and factual record without argument at the hearing.[10] The only new details on these motions is the State’s recent opposition to Defendant Kueng’s dismissal motion and its future opposition to the recent Chauvin motion. [11]

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

[1] Agenda for Court’s 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept, 2, 2000); Comment: More Informed Reaction to Agenda, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 7, 2020).

[2] Prosecution Requests One Trial for the Four Former Policemen Charged with Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 13, 2020); Chauvin’s Memorandum of Law Opposing the State’s Joinder Motion, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Lane’s Defense Objection to State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Kueng’s Objection to the State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Kueng Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Thao’s Memorandum in Opposition to State’s Motion for Joinder, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020);  Xiong, Attorneys for former officers in George Floyd murder case want separate trials, StarTribune (Sept. 8, 2020).

[3]  State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, et al.,Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[4] State’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Expert Disclosure Deadlines, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[5] Chauvin’s Notice of Motions and Motions To Change Venue and Reserve Ruling, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020); Lane’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Change Venue, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020);  Thao’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Change of Venue, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 28, 2020); Defendant Kueng Moves for Dismissal and Change of Venue in George Floyd Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 28, 2020).

[6] Thao’s Notice of Motion and Motion To Sequester Jurors, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 28, 2020).

[7]  Court Denies Ex-Officer Kueng Motion To Remove County Attorney from George Floyd Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 7, 2020).

[8] Kueng’s Notice of Additional Evidence, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 27, 2020).

[9] Thao’s Motion to Compel Disclosure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct.Aug. 24, 2020); Chauvin’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Disclosure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing (July 9, 2020);  Comment: Prosecutors Oppose Ex-Cop Thomas Lane’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 12, 2020); Prosecution Opposes Lane’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 21, 2020); Lane’s Reply to Prosecution’s Opposition to Dismissal of Complaint (Aug. 22, 2020); Ex-Officer Thao Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing  (July 30, 2020); Defendant Thao’s Dismissal Motion (Aug. 25, 2020); Prosecution Opposes  Defendant Thao’s Dismissal Motion for George Floyd Killing (Aug. 27, 2020); Defendant Kueng Moves for Dismissal and Change of Venue in George Floyd Case (Aug. 28, 2020); Chauvin Motion To Dismiss Criminal Complaint (Sept. 9, 2020).

[11] State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020); Exhibits to State’s Response Opposing Defendant’s Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Probable Cause, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Sept. 8, 2020). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: George Floyd Killing.

 

Agenda for Court’s 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases      

On September 1, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill issued an order establishing the following agenda for the September 11th hearing in the four criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd. [1]

State’s Motions

  1. Motion for Joint Trial
  2. Motion to Submit Aggravating Factors to Jury (Blakely)
  3. Motion for Expert Witness Disclosure

Defendants’ Motions

  1. Motions for Change of Venue
  2. Jury Sequestration Motion
  3. Anonymous Jury Motion
  4. Motion to Disqualify HCAO [Hennepin County Attorney’s Office]
  5. Rule 404 Evidence Motions
  6. Discovery Motions

ADMINISTRATIVE MATTERS

  1. Jury Selection (Method; Peremptory challenges)
  2. In-Court Presence/COVID-19 Restrictions
  3. Overflow rooms/Audio-Visual Coverage
  4. Overnight/Special Transcript Requests
  5. Trial Length/Daily Schedule

The Order also stated that this Agenda was “subject to modification at the hearing itself.” In addition:  “Further briefing may be ordered or requested by the parties. Barring an order for further submission, the Court will consider those matters to be under advisement as of September 11, 2020 with a 90-day order deadline [or until December 10]. The court will attempt, however, to issue some if not all decisions on or before October 15, 2020. Motions to dismiss for lack of probable cause will be decided on briefs and accompanying exhibits.”

Reactions

Although this blogger had anticipated the court’s issuing an agenda for the upcoming hearing, the above agenda was surprising in several respects.

First, the relegation of the four dismissal motions to the briefs and accompanying exhibits (without oral argument) was the greatest surprise to this retired attorney without any criminal law experience.  I had thought the first item on the agenda would be the dismissal motions with Chauvin’s first focused on the murder and manslaughter charges. Then the court would consider the three other dismissal motions focused on the aiding-and abetting issues. Does this relegation of these motions to the papers indicate that Judge Cahill already has made up his mind on these motions and merely needs time to do definitive research and write the decisions?

Second, the “Administrative Matters” all apparently assume the trial or trials will be held by the same court. Does this suggest Judge Cahill already has decided to deny the motions to change venue? Does it also suggest that the Judge has decided to grant the prosecution’s motion for joint trial although that is the first item on the agenda?

Third, although this blogger has frequently checked the court’s public list of materials in these four cases, some of the items in the Court’s agenda for the upcoming hearing are not familiar.

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

[1]  Scheduling Order and Joint Motion Hearing Agenda, State v. Chauvin, Thao, Lane & Kueng (Hennepin  County District Court, State v. Chauvin, Thao, Lane & Kueng, Dist. Ct. File 27-CR-20-12646 [& 12949, 12951 & 12953] September 1, 2020).

 

Judge Cahill’s Memorandum Opinion Explaining His Order for Release of BodyCam Videos  

On August 11, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill issued a Memorandum Opinion providing the factual findings and legal conclusions [1] for his August 7th Order granting the motion of the Media Coalition for copies of two of the BWC (body-worn camera) videos of George  Floyd’s arrest and killing.[2]

Preliminarily the Judge said, with citations of decisions by the U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Courts, “Cases that generate intense public interest and media scrutiny highlight the tension between two fundamental rights: the right guaranteed under the federal and state constitutions to criminal defendants to receive a fair trial before an impartial jury, on the one hand, and the right of the public and press to attend public trials, on the other hand.” Moreover, “The open processes of justice serve an important prophylactic purpose, providing an outlet for community concern, hostility, and emotion,” as was true in this very case. (P. 4.)

“The Court is committed to the management of pretrial proceedings and the eventual trial(s) not only to vindicate the public’s and press’ right of access guaranteed by the First Amendment, the common law, and court rules but also Lane and his fellow co-defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial, and this Court’s and the parties’ interests in seeing that justice be done by a fair and objective jury determining the facts based solely on evidence that will be admitted at trial.” (P.8.)

In so doing, the court has conducted “all hearings in these cases in public . . . [with] overflow courtrooms to facilitate the presence of interested members of the public and press.” The court “has also created special websites for each of these cases in which all publicly-available documents that have been filed . . are made available to the public and press by remote access.” (P. 9.)

The court had issued a Gag Order on July 9th in an attempt “to mitigate what some colloquially characterize as efforts ‘to try the case in the press, to seek to avoid or at least to ameliorate the prospects of unduly tainting the prospective jury pool engendered by the intense media interest and reporting on these cases, and to seek to vindicate the Defendants’ rights and the State’s interest in ensuring justice is done in these cases by a fair and impartial jury deciding whether the Defendants or guilty or not guilty on the State’s charges based solely upon the evidence produced during trial, not based upon media reporting, public speculation, and extraneous information, inadmissible at trial, circulating during the months of pretrial preparation.” (Pp. 10-11.) [3]

The Memorandum Opinion then set forth its legal reasoning for its conclusions: (1) the Media Coalition has standing to intervene (pp. 11-13); (2) the media and the public have a right under the common law and court rules to obtain copies of the BWC videos, under cited U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Court decisions and Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Public Access to Records of the Judicial Branch. (Pp. 13-19.)

Important for the court, “based on the representations [of all counsel] were the following ” all council expect the [two BWC videos in question] . . . will be admitted into evidence at the trial, that allowing members of the public and the press to obtain copies of those BWC videos does not, at this stage of the proceedings, present a substantial likelihood of interfering with the fair and impartial administration of justice and the defendants; rights to a fair trial.”

The court did not find it necessary to decide whether the media had a first amendment right to obtain copies of the videos. (Pp. 19-22.)

In a footnote, the court noted that “the fractious, highly partisan, and segmented niches served by the modern-day media and journalists . . . should resoundingly dispel the notion that journalists, as a profession, can be depended on ‘to produce complete, accurate accounts of what transpires.” (Fn. 8 at 7-8.)

Conclusion

 This was a well-reasoned and written opinion.

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

[1] State v. Lane, Opinion on Order Granting Motion of Media Coalition To Obtain Copies of Publicly-Filed Body-Worn Camera Video Evidence, (Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951, Hennepin County District Court, Aug. 11, 2020); Xiong, Judge says he withheld broad distribution of bodycam videos in George Floyd killing to preserve fair trial, StarTribune (Aug. 12, 2020).

[2] State v. Lane, Order Granting Motion of Media Coalition To Obtain Copies of Publicly-Filed, Body-Worn Camera Video Evidence, (Court File No. 27-CR-20-1295, Hennepin County District Court, Aug. 7, 2020); Court Orders Public Release of Bodycam Footage of George Floyd Arrest and Killing, dwkcommentaries.net (dwkcommentaries.net (Aug. 8. 2020).

[3] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

Prosecution Requests One Trial for the Four Former Policemen Charged with Floyd Killing

On August 12, the prosecution in the four George Floyd murder and manslaughter cases asked  the trial court to consolidate all the cases for one trial, currently scheduled to start on March 8.[1]

Technically this was a motion for joinder of the four cases under Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.03, subd. 2, which “when two or more defendants are charged with the same offense,” the court has discretion for them to be tried jointly after considering the following four factors: (i) “the nature of the offense charged;” (ii) “the impact on the victim;” (iii) “the potential prejudice to the defendant;” and (iv) “the interests of justice.”

The brief in support of the motion said, “First, the nature of the offenses supports joinder because of the similarity of the charges and evidence against all four Defendants. Second, the victim-impact factor favors joinder because this factor has been interpreted broadly to include the impact on eyewitnesses and family members who would likely be traumatized by multiple trials. Third, Defendants are unlikely to be prejudiced by joinder because their defenses are not antagonistic. Finally, the interests of justice favor joinder because, among other things, separate trials would cause delay and impose burdens on the State, the Court, and witnesses, and trial-related publicity may compound the difficulty in selecting a jury in subsequent trials. This Court should therefore grant the motion and order the joinder of all four Defendants’ trials.”

For this retired attorney without criminal law experience, this sounds like a very strong argument. The toughest point appears to be whether or not any of the four defendants would be prejudiced by a consolidated trial.

According to the Minnesota Supreme Court, says the prosecution, “the potential prejudice to the defendants—weighs against joinder only if Defendants show that they will present ‘antagonistic defenses’ at trial,” i.e., “when they seek to put the blame on each other and the jury is forced to choose between the defense theories advocated by the defendants.” Moreover, says the prosecution, The Minnesota Supreme Court has identified two narrow categories of cases in which antagonistic defenses are likely to be present;” (1) “where the state introduce[s] evidence that show[s] only one of the defendants killed the  victim, thus forcing each defendant to ’point the finger’ at the other;” and (2) “when the jury is ‘forced to believe the testimony of one defendant or the testimony of the other’ in order to reach a verdict.” Moreover, under Minnesota Supreme court precedents, “arguments about disparate levels of responsibility among the defendants are not enough to render defenses antagonistic.”

Moreover, the prosecution says, “the four defendants are likely to raise common defenses.,” such as the use of force was reasonable or necessary, or that the Defendants’ actions did not cause Floyd’s death.”

The evidence for the motion was provided in exhibits to the Affidavit of Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank: the body worn camera video of defendants J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao (Exs. 1-3);[2] copies of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension interviews of Lane and Thao (Exs. 4 & 5); Minneapolis Police Department’s Policy and Procedure Manual (pertinent portions) (Ex. 6); Hennepin County Medical Examiner Autopsy Report (Ex. 7); Hennepin County Medical Examiner Press release Report (Ex. 8); and Armed Forces Medical Examiner report (Ex. 9).

The defendants’ responses to this motion are due September 8 for the September 11 hearing.

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[1] Xiong, Prosecutors seek permission for one trial for all four former officers charged in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Aug. 12, 2020); State v. Chauvin, State’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Joinder, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Aug. 12, 2020); State v. Chauvin, Affidavit of Matthew Frank, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Aug. 12, 2020); State v. Chauvin, Exhibits Attached to Affidavit of Matthew Frank, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Aug. 12, 2020)(Exhibits 4 and 5 were copies of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension interviews of former officers Lane and Thao on flash drive, which were not available online); State v. Chauvin, State’s Memorandum in Support of Motion for Joinder, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Aug. 12, 2020); State v. Chauvin, Scheduling Order, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Aug. 13, 2020).

[2]  The bodycam video of defendant Thao has not previously been reported. According to the Associated Press, it shows for the first time “the growing horror of nearly a dozen onlookers who repeatedly pleaded with the officers to get off Floyd. One of the bystanders, a black man wearing a Northside Boxing Club sweatshirt yells at Chauvin to ‘”get off his (expletive) neck, Bro” and asks Thao “You gonna keep him like that? “You gonna let him kill that man in front of you, Bro? Bro, he’s not even (expletive) moving right now, Bro.” When a woman who identifies herself as a Minneapolis firefighter arrives, Thao yells at her, ‘Back off!” She, however, persists and asks if the officers have checked the man’s pulse.(Assoc. Press, Ex-Cop’s Video Captures Crowd’s Horror During Floyd Arrest, N.Y. Times (Aug. 13, 2020); Bailey, Owens, Griffiths & Wolfrom, Live updates: New footage released of George Floyd’s fatal encounter with police, Wash. Post (Aug. 13, 2020).)