On Tuesday, the former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin who knelt on George Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes last year was found guilty of charges against him. This trial marked to be one of the most crucial ones in the Black Lives Matter era.
11 months after a bystander video displayed how Chauvin impassively kneeled on the neck and back of Floyd, handcuffed and lying prone on the street, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020, the verdict came out. The video showed Floyd gasping for breath and exclaiming "I can't breathe" and then ultimately going silent. Thus, the Minnesota prosecutors repeatedly told jurors to "believe your eyes" and rely on that video for over three weeks.
"This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes," prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments. "This wasn't policing. This was murder."
The 12 jurors who reached a verdict Tuesday charged Chauvin with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He could be convicted on all of the charges, some or none. The decision was expected to be announced Tuesday afternoon.
Thus here is an explanation of all the charges.
How do the charges against Chauvin compare?
The prosecutors for all the three charges had to prove that the use of force by Chauvin was unreasonable and he caused Floyd's death. It is important to note that prosecutors didn't have to prove Chauvin's restraint was the sole cause of Floyd's death, but only that his conduct was a "substantial causal factor." This is because Chauvin as a police officer has the authority to apply reasonable use of force if the situation demands.
Thus, the jurors in order to convict on any of these counts must find that without the factor of hindsight, Chauvin has imposed a level of unreasonable force on Floyd.
Times of India, reported, “The charges differ when it comes to Chauvin's state of mind - with second-degree murder requiring some level of intent - not an intent to kill but that Chauvin intended to apply unlawful force to Floyd - all the way down to manslaughter, which requires proof of culpable negligence.”
What is second-degree unintentional murder?
Referred to as felony murder, prosecutors had to show that Chauvin killed Floyd while committing or trying to commit a felony. In this situation, the felony would be classified as third-degree assault and they only had to prove that Chauvin only intended to use unlawful force on Floyd leading to bodily harm. They did not have to prove that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd.
Thus, several medicals experts testified that the death of Floyd was caused due to a lack of oxygen in the way he was retrained with the use of force in a position handcuffed and faced down on the pavement for 9 minutes, 29 seconds
Prosecution witness Seth Stoughton testified, "No reasonable officer would have believed that that was an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force."
However, as a response to this, the defense attorney Eric Nelson tried to bring up the underlying heart issues and drug uses. He further stated that Floyd could attack him back and start fighting, and further the nearby bystanders also posed a threat.
"It's easy to sit and judge ... an officer's conduct," defense witness Barry Brodd testified. "It's more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer's shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they're feeling, what they're sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination."
What is third-degree murder?
In this charge, jurors need to find that Floyd’s death was due to an action by Chauvin that proved to be"eminently dangerous" and was carried out with absolutely no regard for a loss of life.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, said prosecutors tried to requirements of this count by studying the dangers of inflicting a living handcuffed person in the prone position. Thus, Dr. Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist, testified that any healthy living person who is subjected to this merciless action would have died.
Minneapolis Police Lt. Johnny Mercil, a use-of-force instructor, testified that officers are trained to "stay away from the neck when possible." Osler said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo was also effective in showing that Chauvin was not trained to use such a hold.
"They wanted to have a lot of evidence showing that what Chauvin did is not what he was trained to do and that the reason they don't train people to do that is because it's eminently dangerous," Osler said.
What is second-degree manslaughter?
This count required prosecutors to prove that Floyd’s death was a result of culpable negligence displayed by Chauvin that created an unreasonable risk and Chauvin consciously took the opportunity of causing severe injury or death.
According to former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, testimony stated that Chauvin should have ideally put Floyd in a side recovery position. He should have also provided medical care before paramedics arrived and that he stayed in his position after he was told Floyd didn't have a pulse, pointing to the severe negligence on his part.
What does Chauvin face when convicted?
Each count holds a different maximum sentence. Thus, second-degree unintentional murder gives a sentence of 40 years, third-degree murder imposes a sentence of 25 years and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
But under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, for a person with no criminal history, each murder charge carries a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years in prison, while manslaughter has a presumptive sentence of four years.