Chauvin trial kicks off its second week

Nine jurors have been selected so far in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with killing George Floyd.

By J.D. Duggan, Freelance Community Journalist

All eyes are on Minneapolis as the trial of Derek Chauvin began last week.

Chauvin is the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the death of George Floyd. He is facing one count of second-degree murder, one count of second-degree manslaughter and — after a back-and-forth about precedent in another case — one count of third-degree murder.

As of Tuesday, jury selection has rendered nine jurors to be seated in the trial — five white people, two Black men, a Hispanic man and a mixed-race woman. Meanwhile, a $27 million settlement in the civil suit by the city of Minneapolis has provoked renewed discussions of relocating or delaying the trial, bringing uncertainty into the courtroom. District Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, previously denied motions for a venue change.

The announcement of the settlement happened during court proceedings on Friday, March 12. Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, said the timing was “very suspicious” and “has incredible propensity to taint the jury pool.” 

Cahill is recalling the jurors who were selected at that time to ask if they have heard about the settlement and whether it would impact their impartiality. 

“I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much,” Cahill said Monday morning.

At the end of the day Monday, the defense still had six peremptory strikes and the prosecution had four. Peremptory strikes are used to dismiss a potential juror from being seated. The judge is also able to dismiss potential jurors, typically if they make it clear that they are unable to attend the trial for financial reasons or they cannot be impartial.

If a peremptory strike is thought to be used because of a juror’s race, ethnicity or other demographic reason, attorneys can use a Batson challenge. The opposition then has to give a reason for why they used the strike. The prosecution has used two Batson challenges so far — Cahill has dismissed both.

The defense’s strikes have mostly been used for people with positive views of Black Lives Matter and who view Chauvin poorly. The prosecution has used their strikes on people who have expressed support for police.

Questions have typically revolved around a potential juror’s feelings about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, what their interactions have been like with police, if they feel that police disproportionately target Black people and other themes. 

Often, a person is not expected to not have an opinion, but Cahill presses them on whether they would be able to set that opinion aside while looking at facts brought forward in the trial.

The first day of jury selection kicked off with a protest of hundreds of people around the Hennepin County Government Center. Mirrors were shattered on the side of the road in front of the building with fake blood strewn around them. One mirror stood on top of a mound in Government Center Park with the word “reflect” written in crimson paint.

The second week started with a smaller protest of about 50 people that demanded a fair jury selection process. Organizers were upset about the dismissal of one juror, a Hispanic woman who spoke English as a second language. Cahill said she was not a “sophisticated” juror but declined the defense’s effort to strike her. He dismissed her anyways because she wrote “unjust death of George Floyd” on the juror questionnaire.

Jury selection will likely last about three weeks. Opening statements are scheduled to begin on March 29 and the trial is anticipated to last two to four weeks.

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