by: Rashard Zanders
Will the video evidence be sufficient to win convictions against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the case of the State of MN vs Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd?
In the weeks leading up to the trial a noticeable tension has washed over the city of Minneapolis. Police Chief Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have invited the ATF, FBI, MN state police and other agencies to patrol the city in general and the autonomous zone at 38th and Chicago Avenue on the south side where Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in particular.
Confidence in the trial process took a serious hit during the jury selection process that many observers believe was racist (by disqualifying candidates of color whose lived experiences with police had been negative). Those exclusions have created a jury pool that could possibly acquit Derek Chauvin despite the viral video seen worldwide by millions of George Floyd's last moments.
According to the online dictionary merriam-webster.com, sophistry -- ‘subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation’ -- has its roots in Greek philosophy, but it has long been roosted in the U.S. judicial system. Chauvin's defense is relying on a 'who're you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?' defense, coupled with the traditional racist tropes that underpin the American judicial system and dehumanize Black men ('George Floyd was a big Black guy!’) in the eyes of the court. The defense hopes to put the deceased Mr. Floyd on trial in the mind of at least one juror to try to achieve an acquittal based on 'reasonable doubt.'
Does the video provide enough evidence to convict Chauvin?
Here are two observations from attorneys from the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center, Josh Esmay, and Bridget Sabo respectively.
Esmay opined that ‘the state is going to rely very heavily on the video and that they likely feel that most of the key facts that the jury needs needs to convict are in the video; the duration of the use of force long after Floyd was unconscious, the position of Chauvin's body on Floyd's neck, Chauvin's demeanor, and the way he appears to cinch it down in response to bystander's pleas to let Floyd up because he couldn't breath. The state will also present medical evidence to establish that Chauvin's actions caused Floyd's death, but the video itself goes straight to the question of whether the force used by Chauvin was objectively reasonable, which will be a key issue.
'I expect that the defense is going to try and argue basically that the video doesn't show the whole picture. They will have police use of force experts that will probably testify that use of force was reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with their training, and they will argue that Floyd was intoxicated which muddies the cause of death – either negating Chauvin's actions as a cause entirely, or contributing enough to the cause of death that the jury can't find that element proven beyond a reasonable doubt.'
Sabo is a juvenile attorney and a restorative justice facilitator with the LRC. She agreed with Esmay's analysis and added 'it is my fervent hope that the video WILL be enough to convict Chauvin on all of the charges against him. The reality of our judicial system is that even when there is irrefutable proof of the commission of a crime, a defendant has a right to a trial.
'Often when there is evidence as clear as the video in this case, a defendant pleads guilty. Chauvin tried to do that, way back in June, when Freeman still had the case and Chauvin felt he would get some benefit from the plea. Luckily, in my opinion, that plea was pulled and Chauvin ended up not being able to take it.
'Chauvin could have straight pled to the charges against him (with no benefit from making a deal other than not putting the public through this trauma), but he hasn't. Since he didn't do that, here we are at a trial where, hopefully, it will be as obvious to the jury as it is to us just how guilty Chauvin is.'
LRC staff include attorneys and advocates from a range of background and lived experiences.
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