Welcome to our ongoing coverage of the Minnesota murder trial of Derek Chauvin, over the in-custody death of George Floyd. I am Attorney Andrew Branca for Law of Self Defense, providing guest commentary and analysis of this trial for Legal Insurrection.
As a reminder, I am “LIVE Parleying” the trial in real-time over at my Parler account, which you can find using my Parler handle: @LawofSelfDefense.
Today in particular I LIVE Parleyed the entire day in real-time, so for micro content on today’s proceedings I point you in that direction.
I’ll note in passing that prior to the start of voir dire there was also considerable discussion on several additional in limine motions in court. These were interesting, but outside the scope of today’s blog post, which focuses on the jury selection process. Time permitting, I’ll follow up on the motions perhaps over the weekend, when jury selection is not in progress.
Today the jury selection process worked through seven more prospective jurors. Voir dire was carried out by Defense counsel Eric Nelson, for the defense, and Prosecutor Steven Schleiter, for the state.
Of the seven prospective jurors questioned today, two (#20 and #27) were selected for jury duty, bringing the total number of selected jurors to five. A total of 14 are required, inclusive of two alternate jurors. I’ve embedded additional commentary on seated jurors #20 and #27, as well as the video of their voir dire, below.
Another two prospective jurors (#23 and #29) were stricken by the state using peremptory strikes. The state has now stricken three jurors, leaving the state with six remaining peremptory strikes.
Of these two, it struck me that #29, a female lawyer in active practice, would particularly have been an exceptionally fair and impartial juror unlikely to be driven to a verdict by emotion or advocacy, and thus favorable to the defense. That loss was a blow to the defense. I’ve embedded additional commentary on #29, as well as video of her voir dire, below.
Finally, three prospective (#26, #28, and #30) were stricken by the defense using peremptory strikes. The defense has now stricken four prospective jurors, leaving the defense with 11 peremptory strikes.
Of these, #30, a leader in a local church, would have been catastrophic for the defense, given that he was strongly activist on issues of social justice, had contributed financially to efforts to defund the police, believed the criminal justice system was systemically racist, had strong positive sentiments towards Black Lives Matter and strong negative sentiments towards blue lives matter.
Despite all this apparent and self-described bias, when pressed by Judge Cahill prospective juror #30 insisted that he could be a fair and impartial juror, and as a result was not removed for cause. This compelled the defense to burn a precious fourth peremptory strike to remove #30. I’ve embedded additional commentary on #30, as well as video of his voir dire, below.
(Note that for all embedded videos, where there was any period of silence or inactivity, due either to a recess, or a sidebar, or a technical glitch, or any other reason, I’ve cut that out of the videos for purposes of efficiency. Otherwise the videos below represent the entirety of voir dire for each prospective juror, respectively.)
Juror #20: Seated
Juror #20 is a male, who is perhaps most notable for being willing to serve on the jury even given the high likelihood that service will require him to re-schedule his wedding planned for May 1, 2021.
He works in sales management, and his fiancé has a law degree (Juris Doctor) but does not actively practice law. He’d formed a somewhat negative opinion of Chauvin based on his viewing of the event video.
He explicitly noted that when you see a person die in police custody, that’s a very negative connotation, nobody is in favor of that. Indeed, he noted in his juror questionnaire that “this event did not need to end in Floyd’s death.” But he also noted that there would be a reason why that person was placed in custody in the first place.
When asked thoughts on police and military, #20 responded that he believed they protect the citizenry’s right to believe what they want. He also expressed a predilection to believe a police witness more than he might a by stander witness
Also in questionnaire #20 stated belief that the criminal justice system was biased against racial and ethnic minorities. When asked to expand on this in voir dire today, #20 said that he based this belief on “data” for arrests of even small offenses like marijuana possession disproportionately occurring to black Americans. He believes there are systematic problems of this sort in the criminal justice system, and wishes the country would get better at managing those.
He also expressed a favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement:
He further expressed a negative view of the blue lives matter movement:
Juror #20 also had a deep-seated interest in matters of “civil injustice,” a “path” he was led to while in college:
In any case, Juror #20 was deemed acceptable by both the defense and prosecution, and seated on the jury. Here is his voir dire:
Juror #27: Seated
Juror #27 was a male with a substantial accent, which sounded to by admittedly inexpert ear as perhaps Caribbean in origin. He is an IT manager, came to the US 14 years ago, and has lived in Minneapolis for perhaps the last 10 years or so. He speaks several languages, including French.
Asked if he will follow the law as instructed by Judge Cahill, even if he disagrees with that law, #27 indicated that he would do so:
He indicated in his questionnaire that he had a somewhat negative opinion of Chauvin based on the bits of video he had seen, but that he was prepared to set that aside for the trial, acknowledging that he did not have all the facts:
It is notable that in the state’s voir dire of #27 (and elsewhere today), Prosecutor Schleiter used extremely inflammatory language that I certainly would have found objectionable:
Juror #27 also strongly disagreed with the notion of defunding the police, thought media reports negative to police were sometimes exaggerated, and viewed the police largely as an entity that helped keep his own community safe.
In any case, Juror #27 was deemed acceptable by both the defense and prosecution, and seated on the jury. Here is his voir dire:
Prospective Juror #29: Stricken by the State
Prospective Juror #29 was a female who actively practices law in civil litigation, and who has a 2-year-old daughter.
In her questionnaire she described having a neutral view of both Chauvin and Floyd, based largely on having inadequate information to have a fully formed opinion.
She also noted a negative view of the protests over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year, noting the destruction that occurred:
She also noted a neutral view of both Black Lives Matter and blue lives matter:
During questioning by Prosecutor Schleiter, they spoke at some length about her pro bono work for an organization that assists women in prison, and similar persons struggling with the legal system.
In response to the jury questionnaire asking if she thought the criminal justice system was biased against blacks and minorities, she “somewhat disagreed” with that statement. She explained this was because she lacked the data needed to either agree or disagree.
She acknowledged that people in a lower socio-economic status certainly had more challenges dealing with the legal system than did better off people.
When Schleiter asked her about her neutral view of Chauvin, he noted that in her questionnaire response she indicated that she’d want to know more about police protocols to have an informed opinion. He asked her to expand on this, and her response is almost certainly what led to the state striking her from the jury using a precious peremptory strike:
I feel like a lot of people are jumping to conclusions based on feelings and gut reactions, but the vast majority saying that are not police officers, I’m not police officers, I don’t know what’s a correct hold, an incorrect hold, this is what you normally do, this is what you shouldn’t do. I can’t inform an opinion I would put on paper under perjury until I know the rest of the information. And I don’t know that information.
In any case, having been stricken by the state, #29 was removed as a prospective juror.
For those interested, here is the video of her voir dire:
Prospective Juror #30: Stricken by the Defense
Prospective juror #30 was a male described as in a leadership position at a mid-sized church.
He immediately raised eyebrows when he informed Judge Cahill that he’d viewed “a minute or two” or yesterday’s voir dire, purportedly for the purpose of ensuring that jurors’ faces were not being shown on the video broadcast.
Naturally, jurors are not supposed to be watching voir dire, but Cahill let this go, merely mentioning he’d prefer he hadn’t done that. #30 assured the court that he had not learned anything substantive about the case from this conduct.
Defense counsel Nelson noted just a ton of red flags with respect to #30. Frankly, there were enough of these that a solid argument could be made for removing #30 for cause, and I expect that Nelson made this argument at sidebar.
For example, #30 expressed a strong tendency towards arriving at a consensus in group decision making, even if that means compromising on a strongly held genuine belief. The defense, at least, wants individual jurors to stick to their genuine beliefs, and to not be amenable to persuasion counter to those beliefs and in the direction of a possible “compromise” verdict.
Worse, in his questionnaire #30 expressed an extremely negative and strongly held view of Chauvin:
In fact, in his questionnaire response #30 described Chauvin as having “murdered” Floyd:
He also characterized Chauvin as having put a “choke hold” on Floyd, and that this “choke hold” was the cause of Floyd’s death. When Nelson pointed this out, #30 assured him that he could set this opinion aside if selected as a juror.
#30 was also an advocate for initiatives to defund the police:
Indeed, #30 had personally contributed financially to such efforts.
#30 expressed a strong agreement that racial minorities do not receive equal treament in the criminal justice system. When asked to expand on this, #30 stated that his belief was based on “research.”
Indeed, #30 believed that such bias could exist implicitly and completely unconsciously, even in himself—in other words, it’s there even if you can’t see it and there’s no evidence of it:
In fact, #30 characterized the “blue lives matter” as an enterprise that was unintentionally racist:
At this point Nelson was clearly frustrated, and pressed #30 on whether he could honestly say that he would be able to set aside all these strongly held opinions and serve as a fair and impartial juror. The response was interesting–#30 effectively relieved himself from any responsibility here, saying that if the court “discerned” that he would be fair and impartial, then he would accept the court’s decision on the matter.
In my opinion this response alone should have been sufficient to remove #30 for cause.
At this point Nelson asked for a sidebar, after which Judge Cahill asked #30 to make an affirmative declaration that he would be fair and impartial if seated as a juror. In reply that did not strike me as particularly sincere, #30 rather robotically stated that he would.
That was apparently good enough a reply for Judge Cahill to not warrant removing #30 for cause, so the defense was obliged to expend a precious peremptory strike.
Here is #30’s voir dire:
Minnesota Supreme Court Declines to Hear Defense
Separate from all the voir dire stuff, there was additional news today on the appeals front of this case. You’ll recall that the court of appeals had ordered the trial court to consider re-imposing the 3rd degree murder charge in light of the court of appeals recent decision in Minnesota v. Noor. The defense had then appealed that court of appeals decision changing the traditional scope of 3rd degree murder to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Today the Supreme Court declined to hear the matter. So, it would appear now that Judge Cahill will be obliged to reconsider the 3rd degree murder charge in this case.
Separately, there remains the question of whether the court of appeals having jurisdiction on the 3d degree murder issue means it retains jurisdiction over the entirety of this trial of Chauvin, in which case even voir dire should not properly be occurring, or whether the court of appeals is retaining jurisdiction narrowly on the 3rd degree murder issue.
The parties are expected to discuss these matters with Judge Cahill tomorrow morning.
Finally, there remain additional motion in limine for discussion tomorrow morning, as well.
OK folks, that’s all I have for all of you today. We continue covering the court live tomorrow morning, with motions in limine starting at 8:00am CT and continued voir dire starting at 9:00am CT. Again, I’ll be LIVE Parley-ing the court’s day, at @LawofSelfDefense.
Until then, stay safe!
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
Attorney Andrew F. Branca’s legal practice has specialized exclusively in use-of-force law for thirty years. Andrew provides use-of-force legal consultancy services to attorneys across the country, as well as near-daily use-of-force law insight, expertise, and education to lawyers and non-lawyers alike in the form of blog posts, video, and podcasts, through the Law of Self Defense Membership service. If this kind of content is of interest to you, try out our two-week Membership trial for a mere 99 cents, with a 200% no-question- asked money-back guarantee, here: Law of Self Defense Membership Trial.
NOTE: Today’s featured image is a screen capture of Defense Counsel Eric Nelson from the video of today’s court proceedings.