The Minnesota Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments on Monday over whether prosecutors can reinstate a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
You can watch in the player above. Court is set to begin at 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CST.
The count of third-degree murder was dismissed last October, and the trial court declined on February 11 to reinstate it. With this in mind, the state also wants to add a charge of aiding and abetting murder in the third degree against co-defendants Tao Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane. Jury selection in Chauvin’s trial was set for next Monday, March 8, so it’s unclear if the current matter will result in a postponement.
As a matter of case law, this stage of the case is wrapped up with a third-degree murder case involving a former Minneapolis police officer convicted in the death of a woman. Mohamed Noor was sentenced last year for shooting 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk while on-duty. As discussed in case documents, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction on February 1, 2021. The question was whether a third-degree murder charge could hold if the defendant’s homicidal act endangered an individual, not multiple people. The court ruled yes, though the dissent said this decision flipped more than a century of case law.
The Chauvin prosecution pushed to get the third-degree murder charge reinstated in light of the Noor decision. From the state’s February 4 motion [citation removed]:
To be sure, there are differences between the facts of Noor and this case. As this Court previously explained, Noor’s actions arguably put others at risk in addition to the victim, whereas Chauvin’s conduct only directly endangered Floyd. … But this distinction made no difference to the Court of Appeals. That court has now clarified that it is immaterial whether the death-causing conduct in Noor may have been directed at, or may have endangered, others.
Chauvin Judge Peter Cahill noted that, normally, he would be “duty-bound” to follow the ruling and grant the State’s request to reinstate third-degree murder, but Noor ruling lacked precedential effect until at least the deadline for granting review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Thomas Plunkett, an attorney for Kueng, also represents Noor, and announced plans to appeal the Noor court decision. (He recently did on Thursday.) As far as Cahill was concerned, that means the Noor case is a pending matter, so the new case law lacks precedence.
“In a nutshell, this Court agrees with the analysis in the Noor dissent,” he wrote in a February 11 ruling. “For that reason, the Court declines to adopt the Noor majority opinion’s holding that a Murder in the Third Degree charge may be submitted to a jury under a fact pattern in which the death-causing act was solely directed at a single person and was not eminently dangerous to others, as is the case here, as persuasive and a basis upon which to grant the State’s motion to reinstate the Murder in the Third Degree charge in Chauvin and to amend the complaints to add Aiding and Abetting Murder in the Third Degree charges in Thao, Lane, and Kueng.”
In a February 16 filing, Chauvin attorney Eric J. Nelson asserted the state was stalling for time, and that the February 1 Noor decision may never carry precedential weight.
Video of Floyd’s fatal encounter with police showed Chauvin kneeling on his neck as the victim increasingly became unresponsive. Thao stood between his fellow officers and angry bystanders, who were disgusted by what they were seeing. Kueng and Lane restrained Floyd’s back. Authorities pulled the man’s limp body onto a stretcher. The incident fueled an ongoing national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color, especially Black men like Floyd.
Law&Crime host and analyst Bob Bianchi, a New Jersey-based criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor unaffiliated with the Floyd case, argued last year that the dismissal of third-degree murder was a “stunning blow” to prosecutors. He suggested that under the definition of the law it might be a tall order for prosecutors to win a conviction for the second-degree murder that remained. If the state fails that at trial, then they would not have the third-degree murder charge to fall back on, but only manslaughter. Third-degree murder in Minnesota is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10.
[Mugshot via Minnesota Department of Corrections]
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