Chauvin Trial: What you need to know


Nikolas Liepins

A portrait of George Floyd held up in front of Government Center in Minneapolis, MN.

The national spotlight fell on the Twin Cities over the past two weeks as the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has progressed. On Monday the trial will conclude with closing arguments from the defense and the prosecution. Here’s a recap of the most important events and takeaways you need to know:

The Basics
On May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin and three other officers responded to an incident involving a counterfeit bill at Cup Foods in Minneapolis. Arriving on the scene, the officers attempted to detain the man accused of using the bill, George Floyd. The altercation concluded with Floyd’s death after Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. Chauvin was later charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The most serious charge he faces is 2nd-degree murder, carrying a maximum possible sentence of 40 years. An in-depth description of manslaughter and murder charges in Minnesota can be found here.

Takeaways from week 1:

  • The week opened with both sides presenting their strategy: head defense counsel Eric J. Nelson said he would attempt to show the jurors that the famous video of Floyd’s death did not tell the full story. The prosecution’s strategy focuses on convincing the jurors to “believe their eyes” when they watched the video. It became clear that the prosecution intended to focus most of their case on Chauvin, whereas the defense planned on focusing mostly on Floyd’s drug use and the bystanders’ actions.
  • The prosecution presented emotion-filled testimony from bystanders who witnessed the killing at Cup Foods. Multiple bystanders were under 18. Multiple witnesses broke down emotionally while they were on the stand.
  • The prosecution presented testimony from multiple police training experts who claimed Chauvin’s use of force was unwarranted and went against police training.
  • George Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross was put on the stand. Prosecutors asked her questions to show Floyd’s humanity as a person. On cross-examination, the defense mostly focused their questions to her — specifically on Floyd’s drug use. (The prosecution also addressed Floyd’s drug use, but attempted to show because of his use he had built up a tolerance such that it was unlikely he was having an overdose during the May arrest).

Takeaways from week 2:

  • Multiple medical experts took the stand. Most testified that Floyd’s death was a combination of factors while acknowledging that Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck was ultimately what led to his death. The medical examiner (Dr. Andrew Baker) who examined Floyd’s body testified that other factors such as Floyd’s drug use and heradiease were “not direct causes of Mr. Floyd’s death.” Baker determined Floyd’s death a homicide after an autopsy was performed.
    Two other medical experts brought on by the prosecution testified that Floyd’s death was the result of compression to his neck and not drug use or heart disease. One noted that Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck 44 seconds after he had no pulse.
  • Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo testified Chauvin’s use of force went against MPD guidelines. It is highly unusual for a police chief to testify against an officer in court.
  • The defense consistently argued that the group of bystanders during the arrest hindered the officer’s ability to carry out a safe arrest and that the crowd was distracting them.

Takeaways from week 3:

  • As the trial continued, outrage was sparked in the Twin Cities over the killing of Daunte Wright (an unarmed African American man) in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park,
  • The defense continued to focus on Floyd’s health, calling multiple witnesses to testify on the other possible factors in his death.
  • Barey Brodd, use of force consultant to police departments, testified that Chauvin did not use excessive force.
  • Dr. David Fowler, a medical examiner for the state of Michigan expressed doubt in the volatility of the Hennepin County medical examiners’ cause of death findings.
  • As of Friday, Chauvin, exercising his 5th amendment rights, had not been called to the stand for the entirety of the trial.

What’s next?
On Monday, both sides will present their closing arguments. After that, the Jury will decide whether to convict or acquit Chauvin on each of the three charges he is facing: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Each charge will be evaluated separately by the jury. There is also the possibility of a hung jury (meaning the jury cannot come to a consensus). In the event of a hung jury, prosecutors will decide whether or not to re-try Chauvin. The jury is allowed to take as much time as it needs to reach a verdict.