As Chauvin Sentencing Looms, Here Are the Issues That Could Fuel His Appeal

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For a brief moment in time, American society came to a stop. A detestable episode of excessive police force perpetuated by former police officer Derek Chauvin refueled Black Lives Matter, and protests followed. It would not be long before more visible demonstrations of dissent would happen. Riots in the city of Minneapolis, as well as other cities in the United States, went on for weeks, even after media coverage had died down. Now, roughly under a year after the incident occurred, Chauvin has been found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. In my opinion, it is impossible and immoral to deny what the court has ruled. The cornerstone of the judiciary system depends on people accepting its results. However, this episode also shows its weaknesses, and we should examine them.

Some people have had concerns about whether or not the jury in Chauvin’s case could have been impartial at the time of coming to a verdict. All twelve jurors unanimously concluded that Chauvin was guilty based on the evidence provided to them, however, one could argue that given the time window between the crime and the actual trial, some of those jurors may have had their own verdict ready from before they were selected. We have all seen the amount of coverage given to the matter on the media, and it would be safe to assume that public opinion had been that Chauvin was guilty. Mainstream media is still a relevant factor in creating public opinion, this is also undeniable. The fact that Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever in recent decades has a lot to do with the polarization of the media itself.

At the time of trial, Brandon Mitchell, one of the members of the jury, did not disclose that he had attended the so-called “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march in Washington last August, at which George Floyd’s brother and sister spoke. At the rally he was photographed wearing a shirt with the slogan printed on it, which also showed support for Black Lives Matter. He argued that when asked about his attendance, he did not lie since it was not public activism. Instead, he argued that it was a rally to encourage people to register to vote in the upcoming election. Notwithstanding these newer facts about the jury, the verdict has not been ruled out. Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric J. Nelson, could use these findings to file an appeal or request a new trial to the judge.

Given the fact that one of the jurors has presumptively lied about his impartiality, the idea of a new trial isn’t too far off for the defense team. Although it is unlikely that members of the jury had the intention of ruling the harshest verdict possible based on their opinions prior to the trial, it is not an idea that should be dismissed out of hand. Why? Because that meant security and safety. Perhaps in a new trial, with new jurors, Derek Chauvin’s convictions could change. The evidence and video footage of the crime seem clear, but a case might be made against the second-degree manslaughter charge if Chauvin’s lawyer proves that there was a risk involved for him, the other police officers, or bystanders were Floyd to be freed from his position on the ground. It is not a lie that Floyd had a past history of violence. He had been involved in multiple theft incidents and served prison time more than once.

Although the verdict has been given, the sentence of the judge assigned to the case will remain unknown until the last days of June. Chauvin is looking at a potential maximum of 40 years in prison. Based on the guidelines for sentencing in Minnesota, there are recommendations for a lesser amount of time to be given if there are no prior convictions, which is the defendant's case. Despite this, taking into account the publicness of the trial and the aggravating factors surrounding George Floyd’s death, prosecutors are inclined to demand more than the maximum sentence. The grounds for this request will be presented on the day of sentencing. Until then, there is time for the judge to keep examining the case and choosing an appropriate punishment.

Several things are scheduled to happen, such as trials for the three other officers at the crime scene on the 20th of May. According to Minnesota law, those who aid or help in any way to the committal of a crime perpetrated by an individual share the same responsibility for it. Because of this, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao are facing numerous charges for aiding and abetting and could face similarly severe sentences. These officers may argue that they were simply following orders, although it’s unclear how much weight this will hold in the courtroom, mainly because the three men could have intervened to prevent the excessive use of force that ultimately led to the death of George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin made use of his Fifth Amendment privilege and did not testify during his case. The other officers are expected to settle for a plea deal to receive lighter sentences and avoid a trial. If that doesn’t happen they may testify in court to tell their version of the events and hope the jurors see remorse in their words.

The death of Black Americans at the hands of police officers has been a recurrent problem in the United States and has often not been treated accordingly. From mainstream media to the jury itself, there have been many vices in the processes and procedures of a trial that has been transformed into a show for social movements and the general public. 

Justice can never be found for anyone if we keep accepting that mainstream media uses cases like these as if they were drama shows to increase public rage and ratings. Furthermore, belief in institutions relies on clarity and fairness for all, including Chauvin. Consider one of the many cases of immigrants involved in shootings and the unfair treatment and portrayal of immigrants in general. The names of the people involved are more often than not withheld to avoid fueling xenophobic groups. It's time we consider doing the same for everyone, including our police officers.

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