What to know about the charges jurors are weighing in the Derek Chauvin trial

National News

The jury in the case of Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, has been given detailed instructions to guide them as they deliberate Chauvin’s fate. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Each charge is broken down into several elements, each of which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for jurors to convict Chauvin of the charge. 

The 12 members of the jury — five men and seven women; six White, four Black, and two multiracial; ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s — must weigh each of the three charges separately, and their verdicts must be unanimous.

Jurors must find Chauvin’s actions a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death

Each charge requires jurors to find that Floyd’s death was caused by Chauvin, meaning Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in causing Floyd to die. How Floyd died has been a key point of dispute at trial, with the defense suggesting Floyd’s heart disease and drug use led to a fatal heart arrhythmia, and the prosecution arguing that the police restraining him restricted Floyd’s oxygen intake and caused his heart to stop. 

The jury instructions leave open the possibility for jurors to conclude that Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in the death even if other factors contributed.

“The Defendant is criminally liable for all the consequences of his actions that occur in the ordinary and natural course of events, including those consequences brought about by one or more intervening causes, if such intervening causes were the natural result of the Defendant’s acts,” the jury instructions read.

The instructions, however, say Chauvin would not be criminally liable if Floyd died because of a “superseding cause,” defined as “a cause that comes after the Defendant’s acts, alters the natural sequence of events, and is the sole cause of result that would not otherwise have occurred.”

Second-degree murder

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, jurors must believe prosecutors have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony, in this case third-degree assault. The charge does not require jurors to find that Chauvin intended to cause death. The charge is also sometimes known as second-degree unintentional murder or felony murder.

George Floyd Officer Trial
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens to closing arguments on April 19, 2021. COURT TV VIA AP, POOL

In order to convict on the underlying charge, third-degree assault, jurors must find prosecutors have proven two elements: that Chauvin assaulted Floyd, and that Chauvin caused “substantial bodily harm” to Floyd. 

An assault would require a finding that Chauvin intentionally inflicted “bodily harm” to Floyd — defined as “physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of a person’s physical condition.” Jurors must find Chauvin intentionally applied unlawful force on Floyd, resulting in bodily harm.

In order to conclude that Chauvin caused Floyd “substantial bodily harm,” jurors must find Chauvin caused “bodily harm that involves temporary but substantial disfigurement, that causes temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or that causes fracture of any bodily member.” 

Jurors do not need to be convinced that Chauvin intended to inflict substantial bodily harm or knew he was doing so, but they must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin intended to commit an assault on Floyd, and that Floyd sustained substantial bodily harm as a result.

Third-degree murder

To convict on a charge of third-degree murder, the jury must believe the evidence shows Chauvin caused Floyd’s death during an act that was “eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” 

The third-degree charge was initially dropped by Judge Cahill, but was reinstated last month after an appeals court handed a win to prosecutors. To convict on this charge, jurors must believe Chauvin intentionally committed the “eminently dangerous” act, meaning an act that is highly likely to cause death.

George Floyd
Demonstrators hold signs honoring George Floyd during a protest outside Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on March 28, 2021.KEREM YUCEL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Jurors must also find Chauvin acted with a “reckless disregard for human life,” though they do not need to be convinced Chauvin intended to cause death. The act also need not be directed at the person who died, but the panel must find Chauvin acted with a “conscious indifference to the loss of life that the eminently dangerous act could cause.”

Second-degree manslaughter 

To convict Chauvin of second-degree manslaughter, jurors must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence,” meaning he created unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or “great bodily harm.”

“Culpable negligence” is defined as intentional conduct by Chauvin that an “ordinary and reasonably prudent person” would recognize as an act that has a strong probability of causing injury to others. It doesn’t require jurors to find that Chauvin intended to cause harm.

“Great bodily harm” means a bodily injury that “creates high probability of death, that causes serious permanent disfigurement, or that causes permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily harm.”

“Reasonable police officer” standard

Jurors are instructed that no crime is committed if Chauvin’s actions amounted to reasonable force in the line of police duty. To get a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s force was not authorized by law. In order for the force to be lawful, officers may only use the amount of force as a reasonable police officer would use under the same circumstances. 

Jurors are told to weigh what a reasonable police officer would have known at the exact moment the force was used, and whether the actions were reasonable given the totality of the circumstances. 

The defense has repeatedly pointed to the “reasonable police officer” standard, arguing that Chauvin followed his training and that the force he used was justified to overcome Floyd’s resistance. But prosecutors introduced a series of high-ranking Minneapolis police officers, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, who said Chauvin’s actions violated department policy, training and values.

Sentencing

In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 

But sentencing guidelines recommend less time for offenders with no criminal history. 

In that case, the suggested sentencing range for unintentional second-degree murder and third degree murder is the same — from just over 10 and a half years to 15 years in prison. The recommended median sentence is 12 and a half years — the same sentence handed down in 2019 to Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer convicted of third-degree murder for firing a shot from inside his squad car and killing a woman who had called 911. 

Someone convicted of second-degree manslaughter with no criminal history would likely spend about four years in prison.

In the Chauvin case, prosecutors have introduced a series of “aggravating factors” that could add additional time to Chauvin’s sentence. They include committing a crime in front of a child — the youngest bystander who witnessed Floyd’s fatal arrest was 9 years old — and using police authority to commit a crime.

Chauvin waived his right to have a jury decide whether the aggravating factors apply, so Judge Peter Cahill will determine whether to consider them at sentencing if Chauvin is convicted. 

If Chauvin is found guilty of any or all of the counts, a sentencing hearing would be scheduled for a later date. In Minnesota, inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars and the remaining third of their sentence on supervised release.

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