Crowds of protesters brought the eyes of the nation back to Minnesota over the weekend as demonstrations took place in downtown Minneapolis, outside of the governor’s home in St. Paul and at the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is scheduled to begin Monday morning.
Chauvin stands accused of killing George Floyd and faces charges including second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and possibly third-degree murder. In the eyes of racial justice advocates across the globe, the outcome of Chauvin’s trial will serve as a bellwether for whether or not police who kill can be held accountable.
Jury selection for the trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. each day, starting Monday, a process that could take as long as three weeks.
Potential jurors will be questioned first by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill and then by the attorneys — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on behalf of the state and Eric Nelson in Chauvin’s defense.
The former officer was caught on video last May pinning his knee on the neck of Floyd for nearly 9 minutes as he laid on the pavement in handcuffs. Chauvin was arrested four days later and initially charged with second-degree manslaughter, capped at 10 years in prison, and third-degree murder, no more than 25 years.
Public outrage over the event grew in the days that followed, and Ellison — alleging that Chauvin had used an “unauthorized restraint technique” — added a second-degree murder charge, the former officer’s most serious offense. It carries a prison sentence of no more than 40 years, but to get the charge to stick, the state will have to prove Chauvin killed Floyd.
“Winning a conviction will be hard. I say this not because I doubt our resources or our ability, in fact we’re confident in what we’re doing. But history does show that there are clear challenges here,” Ellison told NPR.
Police officers are protected by so-called qualified immunity, a legal principle designed to protect government officials against lawsuits unless the individual violated a plaintiff’s “clearly established” constitutional rights, according to Cornell Law School. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 passed the House last week, which would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct cases, NPR previously reported.
Last October, Cahill threw out Chauvin’s third-degree murder charge, but a panel of appeals judges reversed the dismissal Friday. The panel argued Cahill hadn’t followed precedent and ordered the judge to reconsider the charges. It’s unclear whether or not the last-minute change will delay the proceedings.
Security in the city is at an all-time high. The government center where Chauvin will stand trial has been reinforced with concrete barricades and fencing topped with coils of razor wire. Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed to the Twin Cities to help the police keep the peace. The trial is expected to trail into April.
NPR’s Adrian Florido contributed to this report.
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