A jury has been selected in the Derek Chauvin trial, the former police officer who snuffed out the life of George Floyd with his knee held on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Twelve members of the jury will decide Chauvin’s fate. Three alternates were chosen in the event that any of the twelve jurors might be excused during the trial. The jurors consist of three Black men, one Black woman, two mixed-race women and nine white jurors. It is unclear which jurors represent the initial twelve members of the jury who must weigh the evidence and decide if Chauvin committed second degree murder, third degree murder or manslaughter.
The prosecution failed to charge Chauvin with first degree murder. As a former prosecutor, I have tried cases with far less evidence and received convictions of first -degree murder. Of course, my convictions were not against police officers who are rarely charged or convicted of murder or manslaughter. From 2005 to 2020, only five officers were convicted of murder which involved an on duty shooting despite 110 officers charged with murder or manslaughter.
I still beg to differ with the prosecution’s decision to forego the charge of first- degree murder. Every time that Mr. Floyd begged for his life and cried out loud thirty times that he couldn’t breathe during over the last eight minutes of his life, Chauvin showed his intent to extinguish the life out of Floyd. And he succeeded. First degree murder requires intentionally killing a person with premeditation. First degree murder carries a maximum of life in prison versus the lesser charges of third and second degree, respectively at maximum penalty under Minnesota law of 40 and 25 years—although state sentencing guideline would be far less for a first- time offender.
From the defense motions filed and argued, we see how the case will be fought by Chauvin’s lawyers. The defense game plan reminds me of all the other scripts by white police officers who kill Black men and women. It’s called blame the Black victim game. The loss of a Black person’s life is not a game. Yet, that’s how the strategy of defense lawyers appears in my eyes. The second defense is the “innocence of whiteness”—that Mr. Floyd, a Black man was the one who was wrong in not complying with Chauvin, a white man- as if Mr. Floyd caused his own death.
The blame game has already started. The defense argued and judge Peter Cahill will allow the jury to hear about a 2019 drug arrest of Mr. Floyd. Mr. Floyd’s earlier drug arrest has no bearing on how he lost his life on May 25, 2020. Nonetheless, the defense will likely attempt to show that Mr. Floyd was the bad actor and not the other way around. Somehow the judge found it relevant for the defense to show that other factors might have caused Floyd’s death. I find it highly prejudicial to the prosecution’s case. To me, it’s like saying that a lynching might have been caused by a person having asthma or drugs in their system and not caused by the person who lynched him. The autopsy findings will be argued extensively to determine the cause of death and the guilt of Derek Chauvin.
A jury is instructed to base their decision on the evidence in the court room. Juries are also instructed that they may use their life’s experiences and common sense. I often remind juries to bring their common sense with them in the jury room. In this case, I hope the jury brings its collective common sense and their eyes. All of the jurors except one saw the video of George Floyd take his final breaths.
And George Floyd protests were held in all 50 states and around the world. The world watches and waits as we seek justice for George Floyd. I hope the verdict will be the one that most of the world awaits. I hope the verdict will show that Mr. Floyd’s life as a Black man mattered in America.
Opening statements begin on Monday, March 29, 2021.
Debbie Hines, J.D. is a former Baltimore prosecutor and a former Maryland assistant attorney general for Maryland. She currently runs a private practice out of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.