Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who was convicted last month of murdering George Floyd filed court documents for a new trial on Tuesday.
His attorney, Eric Nelson, petitioned the court, alleging that Chauvin's constitutional rights were violated when Judge Peter Cahill refused to change the venue of the trial, and that the pretrial publicity deprived the officer of a fair trial.
Nelson also cites "prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial; and a verdict that is contrary to law."
Chauvin, who jammed his knee into Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as the Black man lay in a prone position on the ground, was convicted on one count of second-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder and one count of second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd's killing, which was sparked by an initial call to police over the alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill, was witnessed in real time in broad daylight by about a dozen people on May 25, 2020. They pleaded with Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers to release Floyd as he struggled to breathe. A video of the 45-year-old's death, as he cried for his mother and begged bystanders to tell his family he loved them, quickly went viral and ignited a national reckoning on police violence and systemic racism even before the trial commenced.
Throughout the latest four-page court document, Nelson argues that the court abused its discretion by keeping the high-profile trial — one that became a national referendum on Black justice in America — in the same city where Floyd was killed and protests had drawn national attention.
The publicity leading up to the proceedings, Nelson said, allowed for "intimidation of the defense's expert witnesses, from which the jury was not insulated." Nelson suggested that such fallout may have a long-lasting "chilling effect" on the ability of defendants in other high-profile cases to obtain expert witnesses in the future.
"The publicity here was so pervasive and so prejudicial before and during this trial that it amounted to a structural defect in the proceedings," Nelson wrote.
The blame for Chauvin's alleged unfair treatment also extended to the jury, the court and the prosecution, according to Nelson. The filing asks Cahill for a hearing to impeach the disgraced officer's verdict, in part, on the grounds that the 12 jurors "felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings." As a result, he said, jurors were left vulnerable to intimidation and potential retribution.
According to the motion, the court abused its discretion in the following instances:
- When it failed to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, or in the least, admonish them to avoid all media
- When it permitted the State to present cumulative evidence with respect to use of force
- When it failed to order that a record be made of the numerous sidebars that occurred during the trial
- When it submitted instructions to the jury that failed to accurately reflect the law with respect to second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and authorized use of force
Chauvin, a 19-year law enforcement veteran, is now awaiting sentencing, which could come as early as this month or sometime in June. State sentencing guidelines recommend 12.5 years in prison for a conviction on unintentional second-degree murder for someone with no criminal history. But prosecutors say they want an additional penalty, called an enhancement, because of certain aggravating factors. Ultimately, it will be Cahill's decision.
It is rare for police officers to be convicted for their conduct while wearing a uniform. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reported, "Some studies show only seven police officers since 2005 have been convicted of murder for their actions on the job. That's even though about 1,000 or 1,100 people a year die at the hands of police."
It took the jury in Chauvin's case about 10 hours over a two-day period to return a guilty verdict for the white police officer.