Chauvin Appellate Brief Regarding State Court Conviction for Murder of George Floyd

On April 25, 2022, attorneys for Derek Chauvin submitted a brief in support of his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals from his conviction and sentencing by the state District Court for his involvement in the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin’s Brief for the Appeal[1]

Here are the principal points of Chauvin’s brief:

  • The pervasive prejudicial publicity, jurors’ concerns for their safety if they did not convict Chauvin and physical threats to the courthouse required the court to change venue, continue the trial, or fully sequester the jury and its failure to do so violated Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 25.02 and the U.S. Constitution’s 6th and 14th
  • More specifically, the pretrial publicity surrounding the case, which was pervasive and overwhelmingly hostile to Chauvin and law enforcement in general, combined with the riots, the threat of violence from a possible acquittal, the City of Minneapolis’ announcement of its $27 million settlement of claims by the Floyd family in the middle of jury voir dire, jurors’ express concerns for their own personal safety and at least two jurors expressing negative views of the Minneapolis Police Department, the media’s spying on the attorneys and disclosing courthouse security measures required the court to change venue, continue the trial or fully sequester the jury, and its failure to do so violated Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure 25.02 and the U.S. Constitution’s 6th and 14th Amendments.
  • The third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, for which he was convicted, must be dismissed because his actions were directed only against one person—George Floyd—and because the Minnesota Supreme Court has decided that such a charge requires actions against more than one person.
  • The second-degree felony-murder charge against Chauvin was invalid because as a police officer he was authorized to “touch” or “assault” Floyd as he resisted arrest and because the court did not instruct the jury that the reasonable use of force by a police officer must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.
  • The trial court also erred by allowing cumulative evidence by seven expert witnesses on their opinions on the reasonable use of force by Chauvin.
  • The court improperly excluded evidence of MPD training materials showing a police officer placing his or her knees on a suspect’s back.
  • The court erroneously excluded testimony by Morries Hall, a passenger in Floyd’s car, on Floyd’s ingestion of fentanyl and being in a state of excited delirium.
  • The court erroneously failed to take actions to correct prosecutorial misconduct regarding failure to timely disclose certain evidence.
  • The court erroneously failed to make a record of defense counsel’s “sidebar” arguments.
  • The court erroneously used Chauvin’s alleged abuse of a position of authority as an aggravating sentencing factor to justify an upward departure from the presumptive sentencing range.

We now await the prosecution’s responses to these arguments.

Chauvin’s Guilty Plea to Federal Criminal Charges Over Floyd’s Death[2]

Presumably the prosecution will find counter arguments in Chauvin’s December 15, 2001, guilty plea in federal court to two counts of depriving Mr. Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights by pinning his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck  and by failing to provide medical care for him on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death.

In the Plea Agreement and Sentencing Stipulations in that federal case, which Chauvin signed and stipulated that he “fully understands the nature and elements of the crimes with which he has been charged  [in that federal case]” and “admits that the following facts are true, and that those facts establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt [to those charges].”

  • Chauvin “held his left knee across Mr. Floyd’s neck, back, and shoulder, and his right knee on Mr. Floyd’s back and arm. As Mr. Floyd lay on the ground, handcuffed and unresisting, [Chauvin] kept his knees on Floyd’s neck and body, even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive. This offense resulted in bodily injury to, and the death of, George Floyd.”
  • “On May 25, 2020, [Chauvin] was on duty and acting under color of law as a patrol officer for the [MPD]. Through his experience as an MPD patrol officer, [Chauvin] was familiar with MPD policies and training regarding the authorized use of force, including the requirement that an officer use force only in proportion to a subject’s resistance and the requirement that an officer stop using force when a subject is not resisting. . . . [Chauvin] was also aware of MPD policy and training that once an arrestee is in custody, the arrestee is the officer’s responsibility to protect, and accordingly, officers are required to provide emergency medical aid to an arrestee who needs it, including CPR immediately if there is not pulse and other basic first aid, even while awaiting Emergency Medical Services (EMSA). Finally, [Chauvin] was trained that if an arrestee is in the prone position, that position may make it more difficult to breathe, and thus, officers should move that arrestee to a side recovery or seated position.”
  • “After an attempt to seat Mr. Floyd in a squad car, [Chauvin] and Officers Kueng and Lane maneuvered Mr. Floyd, who was handcuffed and requesting to be placed on the ground, out of the vehicle and face-down on the street. Mr. Floyd remained restrained, prone and handcuffed on the ground for approximately ten minutes. During this entire period, [Chauvin] held his left knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, back, and shoulder area and his right knee on Mr. Floyd’s left arm and upper back.”
  • “After the initial restraint, Mr. Floyd stopped resisting officers. [Chauvin] admits that no later than the time the officers decided not to apply the hobble to Mr. Floyd, [Chauvin’s] continued use of force became objectively unreasonable and excessive based on a totality of the circumstances. After that point, [Chauvin] continued his unreasonable restraint of Mr. Floyd until after the paramedics arrived.”
  • “[Chauvin] admits that in using this unreasonable and excessive force, he acted willfully and in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to Mr. Floyd’s life. [Chauvin] knew that what he was doing was wrong, in part, because it was contrary to his training as an MPD officer. [Chauvin] chose to continue his use of force even though he knew from MPD policy and training that once Mr. Floyd was compliant, [Chauvin] should have gotten off of him and moved him into a side recovery or seated position.”
  • “[Chauvin] also knew there was no legal justification to continue his use of force because he was aware that Mr. Floyd not only stopped resisting, but also stopped talking, stopped moving, stopped breathing, and lost consciousness and a pulse. [Chauvin] chose to continue applying force even though he knew Mr. Floyd’s condition progressively worsened. [Chauvin] also heard Mr. Floyd repeatedly explain that he could not breathe, was in pain, and wanted help.”
  • “[Chauvin] knew that what he was doing was wrong-that continued force was no longer appropriate and that it posed significant risks to Mr. Floyd’s life based on what he observed and heard about Mr. Floyd.”
  • “[Chauvin] also willfully violated Mr. Floyd’s constitutional right 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. [Chauvin] admits that he failed to render medical aid to Mr. Floyd, as he was capable of doing, and trained and required to do.”
  • “At the time [Chauvin] failed to render medical aid to Mr. Floyd, [he] saw Mr. Floyd lying on the ground, in serious medical need, and eventually unconscious and pulseless, and recognized Mr. Floyd was in clear need of medical aid. At no point during the entire period that Mr. Floyd was on the ground did [Chauvin] or anyone else move Floyd onto his side, start CPR, or provide medical aid of any kind to Mr. Floyd. [Chauvin’s] failure to render medical aid resulted in Mr. Floyd’s bodily injury and death.”
  • “[Chauvin] agrees that the appropriate base offense level is second-degree murder because he used unreasonable and excessive force that resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death, and he acted willfully and in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to Mr. Floyd’s life. [Chauvin] admits that his willful use of unreasonable force resulted in Mr. Floyd’s bodily injury and death because his actions impaired Mr. Floyd’s ability to obtain and maintain sufficient oxygen to sustain Mr. Floyd’s life.”

Conclusion

Given these express written admissions by Chauvin, why is it necessary for the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and Chauvin’s attorneys to go through the intensive and costly process of examining the various issues in Chauvin’s appeal of his state court conviction and sentencing?

This blog welcomes comments expressing why such efforts are necessary.

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[1] Appellant’s Brief, State v. Chauvin, Minn. Ct. Appeals, No. A21-1228 (April 25, 2022); Assoc. Press, Chauvin appeals murder conviction for killing George Floyd, StarTribune (April 28, 2022); Chappell, Derek Chauvin appeals his conviction for George Floyd’s murder, MPRNews (April 27, 2022); Scully, Derek Chauvin asks court to  overturn conviction in George Floyd killing, The Hill (April 27, 2022); Wolfe & Rose, Derek Chauvin appeals his murder conviction in death of George Floyd, CNN.con (April 27, 2022).

[2] Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Killing George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Plea Agreement and Sentencing Guidelines (pp. 2-6), U.S. v. Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (Case No. 21-CR-108 (PAM-TNL) (Dec. 15, 2021). The federal court’s Docket Sheet for this case has the following entries, but the referenced documents are currently not available to the public: (a) 4/1/22 entry for erroneous filing of transcript of 12/15/21 Change of Plea Hearing; (b)  4/5/22 entry for filing of corrected version of that transcript; and (c) 4/27/22 entry for Preliminary Presentence Report on Chauvin.

 

 

Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Killing of George Floyd

On December 15, 2021, at the Minneapolis’ federal courthouse Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving George Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death.[1]

At this hearing, Chauvin also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges for holding down with his knee a 14-year-old boy in 2007 and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries.

His only comments during the hearing were short answers to questions by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson. These questions and answers undoubtedly followed the Plea Agreement and Sentencing Stipulations in his federal case over the killing of Mr. Floyd and other papers regarding pleading guilty to the 2017 mistreatment of the juvenile.

The federal court subsequently will conduct a sentencing hearing on these charges, but Chauvin and the federal prosecution have agreed that he will serve these sentences in a federal prison concurrently with his state sentence and that the federal prosecutors intends to recommend a sentence of 300 months.

Background[2]

On June 2, 2020, Chauvin in a superseding complaint was charged with these crimes under Minnesota state law regarding the killing of M. Floyd:  Second Degree Murder (Unintentional While Committing a Felony), Third Degree Murder (Perpetrating Eminently Dangerous Act and Evidencing Dangerous Mind) and Second Degree Manslaughter (Culpable Negligence Creating Unreasonable Risk).

After the district court had denied his dismissal motion, Chauvin alone went on trial, starting March 8, 2021. On April 20, 2021, the jury convicted him on all three counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

On June 25, 2021, the court at a hearing sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years imprisonment. At that hearing, Chauvin stated to the judge and several members of the Floyd family, “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.”

Observers immediately speculated, rightly so by Chauvin’s recent change of his plea to guilty, that attorneys for the prosecution and Chauvin were working on details of an agreement for a guilty plea and their negotiation of the terms of such an agreement reached fruition at the December 15th hearing.

Along the way, Chauvin has clearly indicated his preference for federal over Minnesota prisons. Perhaps that is because in state prison he is more likely to encounter fellow inmates who have had bad experiences with Minneapolis policemen, including Chauvin himself, and who as a result might have incentives to mistreat Chauvin.

Conclusion

The Chauvin guilty plea to the state charges obviously will result in the dismissal of his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

It also leaves the other three ex-officers with the challenging decision of whether to change their pleas to guilty to the state and federal criminal charges against them and thereby eliminate the necessity of state and federal criminal trials, which might include Chauvin’s testimony against them.

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  1. Zapotosky & Bailey, Derek Chauvin signals he will plead guilty to violating George Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (12/12/21); Mannix, Derek Chauvin to change plea in federal civil rights case, StarTribune (12/13/21); Plea Agreement and Sentencing Guidelines, U.S. v. Chauvin, U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (Case No. 21-CR-108 (PAM-TNL) Dec. 15, 2021); Mannix,  Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to civil rights charges in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (12/15/21); Bailey, Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to violating George Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (12/15/21);Bogel-Burroughs, Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Violating George Floyd’s Rights, N.Y. Times (12/15/21); Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to civil rights charges in killing of George Floyd, Guardian (12/15/2021);
  2. This blog’s many posts about the state criminal cases over the killing of Mr. Floyd are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing. This post specifically references the following posts: The Criminal Complaint Against Derek Chauvin Over the Death of George Floyd (June 12, 2020); Court of Appeals Reverses District Court’s Refusal To Follow Precedent on Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin, (Mar. 5, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Week One (Mar. 15, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Conviction (Apr. 21, 2021); Derek Chauvin Trial: Chauvin Sentenced to 22.5 Years Imprisonment (June 28, 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).

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).

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.

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[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.

 

Developments in State’s Prosecution of Ex-Officers for Aiding and abetting the Killing of George Floyd   

As noted in a prior post, on May 12, attorneys for Tou Thao filed a motion for sanctions for alleged prosecutorial misconduct, and on May 20, the State submitted a blistering opposition to that motion. Also on May 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in the State’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of its motion to add a charge of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against the other three ex-officers.

Thao’s  Motion [1]

The basis for this motion was the State’s allegedly (a) having Dr. Roger Mitchell, a former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, D.C., pressure Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, to change his preliminary findings of “no physical findings [supporting] a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” to the final findings of “neck compression;” and (b) after Chauvin’s chief medical expert (Dr. Fowler) testified that in his opinion the cause of death was undetermined, Dr. Mitchell wrote to Maryland officials to investigate Dr. Fowler’s qualifications and such an investigation was commenced by the Maryland Attorney General.

On that basis the motion requested an order (a) dismissing the criminal charges against Thao; (b) barring seven attorneys (Including Attorney General Ellison and Neal Katyal) from participating in any trial against Thao; (c) asserting complaints about these attorneys to their professional responsibility authorities; and (d) requiring the State to report Dr. Mitchell to the appropriate medical boards.

On the same day of the motion, the State submitted a short letter to the Court from Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank saying that this motion asserted, “Bizarre allegations . . . [that] are false and wrong.”

A more detailed and fierce response from the State was filed on May 20. It asserted that this “motion is another bad-faith attempt by Defendant Thao to debase the State, disqualify members of the prosecution team, and divert attention from his role in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. . . .These preposterous accusations are simply false, and . . .Thao does not even offer a shred of evidence to support this baseless conspiracy theory. If anything, the very facts . . . Thao offers [the sworn testimony of Dr. Baker]disprove the accusations he makes.”

“The State also cannot, and did not, control or influence the response to Dr. Fowler’s public testimony from the medical community at large . . . . [Over 400] medical professionals found Dr. Fowler’s testimony to be so contrary to accepted medical standards that they publicly expressed concern about the credibility of Dr. Fowler’s work. . . .[This] is evidence against, not for, the wild accusations of defense counsel.”

Thao’s attorney “has launched a frivolous motion practice campaign to unfairly prejudice the prosecution in the public domain, replete with gratuitous and unfounded personal attacks on the prosecution. To make false accusations of coercion against the State n an attempt to tarnish professional reputation, taint the jury pool, and advance Defendant’s interest in the public eye is beyond the pale.”

Therefore, argued the State, “the court should summarily deny ]this motion} . . .and remind defense counsel of his obligation to refrain from frivolous motion practice.”

Appellate Argument Over Aiding and Abetting Third-Degree Murder [2]

On May 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in a pending appeal by the State over whether or not the three co-defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao) could be charged with aiding and abetting third-degree murder of George Floyd.

Neal Katyal for the State argued that this appellate court already had decided that a charge of third-degree murder was viable against Derek Chauvin, for which he was convicted in April, and that appellate decision “should settle the [issue for the other three defendants].

For the three co-defendants attorney Deborah Ellis argued that it was legally impossible for them to be charged with aiding and abetting third-degree murder because that is an unintentional act and relies on a defendant’s reckless state of mine, but aiding and abetting must be intentional. This, she argued, required the principal actor and the accomplice to be of the same mindset.

One of the three appellate judges, Judge Renee Worke, said this was a “novel” argument while Attorney Katyal said this argument was just wrong. A defendant and aids a crime of recklessness if he intentionally assist in the reckless act, knowing it is reckless. Moreover, the State could just charge the three co-defendants as principal actors.

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[1] See Developments in State Criminal Cases for George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 13, 2021); State’s Response to Defendant Thao’s Motion for Sanctions Regarding Alleged Witness Coercion, State v. Thao, Hennepin County District Court, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (May 20, 2021); Olson, Prosecutors deny defense claim that medical examiner’s opinion in George Floyd’s death was coerced, StarTribune (May 20, 2021).

[2] Forlit (AP), Appeals court hears case of 3 ex-cops charged in Floyd death, StarTribune (May 20, 2021).

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.

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[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).