The charges against Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, explained #Breaking112
That key question is at the heart of the three charges against the former Minneapolis Police officer and will be top of mind for jurors when their deliberations begin. To render a verdict, they’ll also have to interpret Minneapolis Police policies, Floyd’s cause of death, and the specific language of the law.
Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The second-degree unintentional murder charge alleges Chauvin caused Floyd’s death “without intent” while committing or attempting to commit felony third-degree assault. In turn, third-degree assault is defined as the intentional infliction of substantial bodily harm.
The third-degree murder charge alleges Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”
The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm.”
Each of the three charges requires prosecutors to prove that Chauvin’s actions were not objectively reasonable and that they were a substantial cause of Floyd’s death. But the charges differ primarily in how they interpret his intent and mindset during his restraint of Floyd.
Some of the terms in these charges have specific definitions. Others will be left up to the jury to interpret.
As in any criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof and must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Any verdict the jury reaches must be unanimous.
The charges are to be considered separate, so he can be convicted of all, some or none of them. If convicted, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder, and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
The actual sentences would likely be much lower, though, because Chauvin has no prior convictions. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines recommend about 12.5 years in prison for each murder charge and about four years for the manslaughter charge. The judge would ultimately decide the exact length and whether those would be served at the same time or back-to-back.
What the charges have in common
Central to all of the charges is the element of causation, or that Chauvin was a substantial causal factor in Floyd’s death.
To prove that point, prosecutors featured testimony from five doctors who said that Floyd died of insufficient oxygen due to Chauvin’s restraint of a handcuffed Floyd in the prone position — known as “positional asphyxia.”
Other medical experts for the prosecution were more definite.
The defense tried to undermine that by highlighting Floyd’s drug use and underlying heart issues. They suggested he died during the restraint — but not because of Chauvin’s actions.
“In my opinion, Mr. Floyd had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia, or cardiac arrhythmia, due to his atherosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease … during his restraint and subdual by the police,” he said.
To prove that point, a handful of police supervisors and use-of-force experts criticized Chauvin’s kneeling on Floyd, who was not resisting and was unconscious for several minutes of the restraint.
The defense, meanwhile, has argued Chauvin’s actions look ugly to bystanders but are within his proper training. They portrayed his knee on Chauvin’s neck and back as a common ground control technique.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” said Brodd, a former police officer.
Where the charges differ
The three charges each interpret Chauvin’s intent last May in a slightly different way.
The second-degree unintentional murder charge is what’s known as felony murder, or when a person commits an underlying felony and someone unintentionally dies. This charge requires the jury to find that Chauvin intended to assault Floyd and inflict substantial bodily harm.
The third-degree murder charge alleges that Chauvin had a “depraved mind, without regard for human life.” The basic gist of depraved mind is “extreme recklessness,” according to Richard Frase, Professor of Criminal Law at University of Minnesota Law School.
Finally, the second-degree manslaughter charge relies on “culpable negligence,” which has been interpreted to mean gross negligence combined with recklessness.
For example, in a rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments, prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell told the jury to note Chauvin’s body language.
“This wasn’t the face of fear or concern or worry,” he said.
The defense also has argued that Chauvin behaved the way he did because he was distracted by a hostile crowd of bystanders. Chauvin may not have done exactly as trained, this theory goes, but the crowd’s hostility offers a non-criminal explanation why.
However, the bystanders testified that nobody threatened the officers and that they raised their voices only because Floyd appeared to be in an increasingly dire condition. Further, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant and use-of-force expert for the prosecution testified that he doesn’t believe Chauvin was distracted because he was interacting directly with what Floyd was saying.