Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill has refused to move the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin implicated in the death of George Floyd to another location. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had tried to get the trial to stop or be moved to another location so that the former Minneapolis police officer can get a fair trial in the light of the $27 million settlement the city council paid out to Floyd’s family.
Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter after he knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while the black man was handcuffed behind him. Three other former police officers implicated in the death were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. The event occurred on May 25, 2020, and captured on video by an eyewitness. The occurrence also sparked massive protests across the world and led to numerous changes in policies regarding racial profiling and justice.
Nelson argued that Chauvin will not get a fair hearing if his trial is not postponed or moved based on two facts: Judge Cahill permitted the 12-person jury to entertain small evidence related to Floyd’s arrest in 2019 and would only allow evidence regarding his cause of death at the hands of policemen in 2020, and the Minneapolis city council payment of $27 million settlement to Floyd’s family was ill-time since it would cause prejudice in the jury.
Judge Cahill agreed with Nelson that the timing of the financial settlement was bad, but that postponing the trial would be useless since pretrial publicity was already in play, and that transferring the case elsewhere within Minnesota would not help the case since the fallout affected the entire state, country, and world.
Meanwhile, a Harvard Law School Emeritus Professor, Alan Dershowitz, said it is not possible for Chauvin to obtain a fair trial in Minneapolis unless the venue of his trial is changed. He said Judge Nelson committed a “serious constitutional mistake” by refusing to move the trial since members of the jury would be frightened for their lives and that of their families if they acquitted Chauvin or failed to acquit him.
In defending Chauvin, Dershowitz said he would focus on the fact that placing a knee on the neck of a suspect was standard police policy in Minneapolis as at the time Chauvin did the same to Floyd, and that the suspect died as a result of preexisting medical conditions and not on account of the knee placed on his neck, even though this policy is now outdated in the city.
“My defense would be this: Number one, the knee on the neck — although we now know it was wrong – was [police] policy in Minneapolis,” Dershowitz said. “Not only that, it was used dozens of times and nobody ever died. Why did this person die? The defense would be, not because of the knee on the neck, but because of his preexisting conditions, his high blood pressure, his drugs in the body. That was the proximate cause and the best proof of that is the knee on the neck had been used in the past without any fatalities.”