Court’s Questionnaire for Prospective Jurors in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On December 22, the Hennepin County District Court published its 14-page Special Juror Questionnaire for the joint trial of the four former Minneapolis policemen involved in the George Floyd killing on May 25th.[1]

The Questionnaire starts with an instruction to “answer all of the questions as completely and honestly as you can” and if “some of your past experiences would be particularly sensitive, traumatic, or embarrassing” mark them PRIVATE , and the judge will consider them “as privately as possible.”

“PART I. KNOWLEDGE OF THE CASE”

The first question is, “What do you know about this case from media reports?” That is followed by eight more questions about the Floyd case and Floyd demonstrations. Questions 2 and 3 ask about “general impressions of the defendants” and Floyd with six options (“Very negative, Somewhat negative, Neutral, Somewhat positive, Very positive, Other”). Each of these two questions is followed by “Why do you feel that way?”

Question 4 asks “Do you, or someone close to you, have any direct or indirect connections with these events?” and “If yes, please explain.”

Question 5 asks “Have you ever watched video of George Floyd’s death on the news or the internet?” And “If yes,” provide more details.

Question 6 asks “Have you ever talked about George Floyd’s death with your family, friends, co-workers, or discussed it online, for example, on social media? If yes, what opinions have you expressed?”

Question 7 asks “Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death?” If Yes, “explain how much you were involved,” and “ if you participated, did you carry a sign? And “What did it say?”

Question 8 asks “Did you or someone you know get injured or suffer any property damage during the protests that took place after George Floyd’s death?”

Question 9 asks “Do you believe your community has been negatively or positively affected by any of the protests that have taken place in the Twin Cities area since George Floyd’s death?”

Question 10 asks whether “you can put aside [whatever you have heard about the case or your prior opinions} and decide this case only on the evidence you receive in court, follow the law, and decide the case in a fair and impartial manner?”

“Part II. MEDIT HABITS”

This Part asks eight questions about the prospective juror’s sources of news.

“Part III. POLICE CONTACTS”

This Part asks 14 questions regarding the prospective juror’s contacts with the police and whether the individual “supported or advocated in favor of or against police reform” (Q 3); the individual’s “honest opinion” on various issues about the police (Q. 9); whether the individual “had . .. ever been trained on how to restrain someone or use a chokehold” (Q. 10); whether the individual had “any martial arts training or experience” (Q. 11); whether the individual “or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality (Q. 12); “How favorable or unfavorable you are about Black Lives Matter” and explain your response (Q. 13); “How favorable or unfavorable are you about Blue Lives Matter?” and explain your response (Q. 14).

“PART V. PERSONAL BACKGROUND”

This Part has 18 questions, the first 11 of which are fairly basic.

Question 12 asks whether the individual or anyone close to you, has “any training or experience (work or volunteer}” in the following areas: Law; Law enforcement; Criminal justice or criminology; Forensic science; Medicine or health care; Counseling, Psychology or Mental Health; and “Civil Rights or Social Justice Issues.”

Question 13 asks whether the individual or anyone close to you has had any of these experiences: “Victim of Crime, Accused of a Crime, Struggle with Drug Addiction” and Question 14 asks whether any of such experiences would “make it difficult for you to be fair and impartial” and “Why.”

Question 15 asks the individual whether you have had any of these court experiences: “served on a jury in a criminal case, served on a jury in a civil case, testified as a witness in a court case, served on a grand jury, worked for the judicial branch.” Question 16 asks whether any of such experiences would “make it difficult for you to be fair and impartial“ in this case?” And if so, “why?”

Question 17 asks for a list of “any hobbies or special interests you have.”

Question 18 asks for identification of all “organizations you have belonged to or in which you participate as an active volunteer or financial supporter.”

“PART V. OPINIONS REGARDING JUSTICE SYSTEM”

1. “Do you believe that the jury system in this country is a fair system? Why or why not?”

2. “Do your believe that our criminal justice system works? Why or why not?”

3. “Would you have any difficulty following this principle of law, under our system of justice?”

• “defendants are presumed innocent of the criminal charges against them.” (Para. 3.)
• “the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Para. 4.)
• “defendants have the right to remain silent, and if they exercise this right, their silence is not to be used against them.” (Para. 5)
• “the potential consequences of your verdict, including potential penalty or punishment, must not in any way affect the jury’s decision as to whether or not the prosecution has proven the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Para. 6.)
• “the jury must decide the case solely on the evidence produced in court and the law that the judge instructs, and not because of bias, passion, prejudice, or sympathy.” (Para. 7.)

“PART VI. TRIAL LENGTH AND ABILITY TO SERVE”

1. “The best prediction is that jury selection will last from March 8, 2021 to March 26, 2021. You will have to appear at the Hennepin County Government Center for 1-2 days in that timeframe . . . If you are selected for the jury in this case, you will have to appear every weekday starting March 29, 2021 until trial and deliberations are finished (estimated to be three to four weeks). Is there any significant hardship or reason why you cannot serve during this time period.”
2. “During jury deliberation (And possible for part of the trial), the jury will be sequestered. That means the jury will work into the evenings and taken to a hotel to stay overnight. Is there any reason why you cannot be sequestered overnight?”
3. “Secure parking will be provided for jurors, free of charge. Are you able to drive yourself, or have someone drop you off each day?”
4. “How difficult do you think it will be for you to evaluate graphic photographs or video, including photos and video of a person who has died?”
5. “The jury is told not to read, watch, or listen to news accounts of a trial they are involved in until it is over, and not to talk to anyone,about the case, not even to one another, and to not post anything on social media or elsewhere, including through jury deliberations. Would you find it difficult to follow these instructions for any reasons?”
6. “Is there any reason why you would not be able to give your complete attention to a trial during your time as a juror?
7. “Do you have any religious or philosophical beliefs, which would make it difficult for you to be a juror?”
8. “Do you have any medical, visual, hearing, physical, or other impairment that may affect your ability to serve as a juror on this case?”
9. “Is there any other reason that you could not be a fair and impartial juror in this case? If yes, Please explain.”
10. “Is there anything else the judge and attorneys should know about you in relation to serving on this jury?”
11. “Do you want to serve as a juror in this case? {Yes. No. Not sure.]”
12. “Why do you feel that way about serving as a juror in this case?”

Prior Court Comments About Jury Issues

At the September 11th hearing, the Judge said, “it would be almost cruel to keep . . . [jurors] in on weeks at a time. Instead, he suggested they be “semi-sequestered.” Jurors [will] drive to court each day for deputies to escort them from their vehicles to a secure elevator, have their lunches brought in to the jury room and then have them escorted back to their vehicles. The Judge also said he anticipates jury selection will take two weeks with each prospective juror to take the witness stand for questioning by the attorneys.

At the November5th hearing, the Judge issued the Court’s Order for Juror Anonymity and Sequestration and said 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.

The Judge added that 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

Conclusion

Although the Court did not specially call for comments on this Questionnaire by the attorneys in this case, they clearly have the right to object to any of these proposed instructions or to suggest other instructions. However, this set appears to cover all of the points.

Nor did the Judge indicate when this Questionnaire would be sent to prospective jurors or when their responses would have to be sumitted to the Court.(The listing of this item on the Court’s website, however, states it was “mailed to prospective jurors summonsed.”)

It is interesting that the Judge expects that the trial of the four consolidated cases will start on the previously established date of March 8, 2021 (only 87 days after today, including Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays), that jury selection will take three weeks (March 8-26) and that the trial will take three to four weeks (March 29 to April 16 or 23). Those appear to be optimistic to this bystander.

How would you like to be a prospective or actual juror in this case?

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[1] Special Juror Questionnaire [blank],State v. Chauvin, Dist. Ct. File 27-CR-20-12646 (Dec. 22, 2020),
https://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-20-12646/JurorQuestionnaire12222020.pdf;

Bailey, Potential Jurors in George Floyd Case asked if they support defunding the police, amid concerns about ‘fair and safe’ trial, Wash. Post (Dec. 22, 2020),https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/george-floyd-trial-jury-selection/2020/12/22/a49ae422-44a6-11eb-a277-49a6d1f9dff1_story.html.

[2] Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 12, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/09/12/results-of-9-11-20-hearing-in-george-floyd-criminal-cases;

Court’s Orders Regarding Criminal Trial of Defendants in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 5, 2020), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/11/05/courts-orders-regarding-criminal-trial-of-defendants-in-george-floyd-killing;

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