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Breaking Down the Law: Derek Chauvin Trial

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Next week the criminal trial against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin.

The parties finished jury selection Tuesday.

Mr. Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder for his role in the death of George Floyd last May.

What do the charges against Mr. Chauvin mean, and what should we expect to see during the trial?

Let’s start with the charges. What’s the difference between 2nd-degree murder, 3rd-degree murder and 2nd-degree manslaughter?

Third-degree murder is the most unique charge, as Minnesota is only one of three states that have it.

Essentially, 3rd-degree murder is felony-murder.

You don’t intend to kill someone, but you do intend to commit a different act without regard to human life.

Second-degree murder, on the other hand, is intentional murder that was not planned or premeditated.

So you did not plan to murder someone in advance or plan for it, but you did intend to do it with a short-term decision.

And then 2nd-degree manslaughter is where you did not intend to kill someone but committed an intentional or negligent act that led to death.

Often see this charge in drunk-driving cases.

Let’s go through the Prosecution and Defense positions in the case. What should we expect to see?

For the prosecution, most of their case will be exactly what we have all seen in the media since this incident occurred.

They will show the video of Mr. Floyd’s death, where Mr. Chauvin had his knee on his neck for over nine minutes and argue that doing this for such a long period of time was intentional, with the purpose of inflicting bodily harm.

They will have experts to prove improper force, and they will have experts to discuss the autopsy results.

Remember, they must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Derek Chauvin either (1) intended to kill George Floyd; (2) intended to harm George Floyd, outside of accepted police methods; or (3) negligently performed his police duties, resulting in Mr. Floyd’s death.

And they must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Derek Chauvin’s actions are what killed Mr. Floyd.

This is where the defense will focus their efforts – to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.

I will warn viewers right now that there will be information that comes out during this trial that the media has not previously reported.

First, Mr. Chauvin will defend his actions.

When the defense filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Mr. Chauvin, they included a training document from the Minneapolis Police Department.

That document shows instructions given to officers – including Derek Chauvin – on when and how to use the exact Maximal Restraint Technique used by Mr. Chauvin to retrain Mr. Floyd, with a knee on the shoulder and neck area.

In fact, the training document says the technique is to be used for suspects who were involved in a violent struggle because there is a risk of a heart attack after a violent struggle.

And placing suspects in this position is to improve their breathing while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

So the defense will argue that Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he was trained to do.

If the jury believes this argument, they could acquit Mr. Chauvin on all three charges, even if they believe Mr. Floyd died because of being restrained.

The second line of defense will deal with the causation of death.

There is a video from a 2019 arrest of Mr. Floyd whereupon police approaching him, Mr. Floyd swallowed drugs in his possession.

Meanwhile, in the 2020 arrest where he died, Mr. Floyd appears to have a white pill on his tongue, which then disappears, suggesting he swallowed it.

And we know from the toxicology report that Mr. Floyd had a lethal amount of Fentanyl in his blood.

So the defense will argue that even the jury concludes that Mr. Chauvin acted inappropriately, Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose, not from the restraint hold employed by Mr. Chauvin.

I would say that the prosecution has the advantage in the case because the video of Mr. Floyd’s death is so awful.

But I could easily see how the training manual, as well as the Fentanyl issue, could create doubt in the minds of the jury.

We shall see.