LIVE: Chauvin Trial Day 12 – Meet the Chauvin Trial Jury Instructions

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.

It seems likely that today will see an important inflection point in this trial, with the state resting its case in chief intended to meet the state’s burden to prove defendant Chauvin guilty as charged beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defense beginning the start of its case in chief intended to raise a reasonable doubt in the juror’s minds with respect to the criminal charges.

Interestingly, the defense case in chief is expected to be much more brief, only about three days, in contrast with that of the state, which is now entering its 12th day of testimony.

Once the defense has also rested, it will be time for the jury to receive its instructions on the law from Judge Cahill before they go into deliberations, tasked with arriving at a unanimous verdict of either guilty or not guilty for Chauvin on each of the criminal charges brought against him, and perhaps lesser included charges, as well.

Judge Cahill has indicated that he’s likely to allow closing arguments to take place on Monday, with jury instruction and deliberations to follow immediately afterwards, at which point the jury will be sequestered in deliberations.

Minnesota, like almost all states, has developed a set of standardized jury instructions, and for its criminal courts refers to these as the Criminal Jury Instruction Guide, or CRIMJIG.  Within the CRIMJIG the individual instructions are organized in much the same manner as Minnesota criminal statutes, and each CRIMJIG jury instruction is assigned a distinct identifying number.

As we rapidly approach the point of the jury being instructed I thought it might be helpful to share with all of you the relevant CRIMJIG instructions on the criminal charges in this case. Note that there are also additional instructions, beyond those related to the criminal charges, that the jury will also receive, usually of a more administrative sort—defining “reasonable doubt,” for example. Here, however, I’m focusing strictly on the criminal jury instructions.

I should note, however, that the standardized CRIMJIG instructions are not likely to be the final form of instructions received by the jury.  The standardized instructions are best thought of as the starting point for the final instructions to be used in deliberations.

There is always some modest and contextual modification made to any standardized jury instructions—things like filling in the defendant’s name, the date of the event in question, and so forth.

The parties are free, however, to also suggest more substantive changes to the standardized jury instructions, argue for their suggested changes before the judge.  The reason for allowing such substantive changes is to customize the standardized instructions to best fit the unique factual and legal characteristics of this particular trial.

Indeed, the parties have already done so in motions filed with the court, which I’ve embedded below, and we should expect final arguments on the jury instructions as soon as the parties have rested and before the jury is instructed—all these arguments, of course, taking place outside the hearing of the jury.

Ultimately the trial judge, here Judge Peter Cahill, will decide the final form of the jury instructions, either accepting or rejecting suggested modifications by the prosecution and defense. Just as the jury is the “finder of fact” in a trial, Judge Cahill is the “finder of law,” and the jury is legally bound to apply the law in this case as they are instructed by Cahill. (Of course, practically binding them to this obligation is all but impossible.)

As Judge Cahill makes those decisions on suggested modifications he will also be well aware that standardized jury instructions exist for a reason—those are the jury instructions preferred by the appellate courts—and the more substantive modification he adopts the more likely this case, and his legal decisions, are to be reversed on appeal.  This awareness tends to act as a powerful brake on any judge’s interest in greatly modifying the standardized jury instructions.

You’ll recall that these are the criminal charges in this case:

609.19. Murder in the second degree.

609.223 Assault in the third degree.

609.205. Manslaughter in the second degree.

609.195. Murder in the third degree.

A more substantive discussion of those criminal charges can be found here, Chauvin Pre-Trial Day 1: 3d Degree Murder Throws Wrench Into Jury Selection Process, with additional discussion of the recently modified 3rd degree murder law of Minnesota discussed here, Chauvin Pre-trial Day 4 Midday: 3rd Degree Murder Reinstated, Sixth Juror Seated.

Also relevant to this case is the following justified use-of-force statute:

609.06 Authorized use of force.

Here are the standardized jury instructions (CRIMJIG) relevant to the criminal charges in this case:

11.24 Murder in the Second Degree—Defined

11.25 Murder in the Second Degree—Elements

11.37 Murder in the Third Degree–Depraved Mind—Defined

11.38 Murder in the Third Degree–Depraved Mind–Elements

11.55 Manslaughter in the Second Degree—Defined

11.56 Manslaughter in the Second Degree—Elements

13.01 Assault–Intent to Cause Fear

13.02 Assault–Infliction of Bodily Harm

13.15 Assault in the Third Degree–Substantial Bodily Harm—Defined

13.16 Assault in the Third Degree–Substantial Bodily Harm–Elements

13.30 Assault in the Fourth Degree — On Firefighter, Emergency Medical Service Provider, School Official, Etc. — Elements

13.31 Assault in the Fifth Degree–Intent to Cause Fear or Inflict Bodily Harm–Defined

Here are the defense and prosecution motions on jury instructions, both filed on February 8, 2021. These will be slightly different from the standardized CRIMJIG instructions, modified in whatever way the parties think will be more favorable to them and also to be acceptable to Judge Cahill.   It is likely further modifications will be argued for and against this week, beyond those contained in these February motions.  Helpfully, the defense motion includes reference to relevant CRIMJIG numbers; unhelpfully, the state motion does not:

Defense Motion: Proposed Jury Instructions

LINK: Defense Motion: Proposed Jury Instructions

Prosecution Motion: Proposed Jury Instructions

LINK: Prosecution Motion: Proposed Jury Instructions

Finally, be sure to stay with us on this blog post all day as we LIVE stream and LIVE blog the trial proceedings in real time, over at Legal Insurrection, and to join us again this evening for our end-of-day wrap-up commentary and analysis this evening.

Anyone interested in a free podcast version of our daily legal commentary and analysis of the Chauvin trial can access the Law of Self Defense News/Q&A Podcast, available on most every podcast platform, including PandoraiHeartSpotifyApple PodcastGoogle Podcastsimple RSS feed, and more.

And thanks, as always, to both Legal Insurrection and CCW Safe for the support that makes my coverage of this case possible.

Until next time, 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. He wrote the first edition of the “Law of Self Defense” in 1997, and you can now order the most current edition for just the price of shipping and handling by clicking here.  To know YOUR state’s use-of-force laws in an actionable way that will keep you safer physically and legally, take our state-specific advanced use of force class either streamed online or via a shipped DVD with a 100% no-question- asked money-back guarantee, here:  Law of Self Defense State Specific Use-Of-Force Class.

[Featured image is a screen capture from video of today’s court proceedings in MN v. Chauvin.]


15 thoughts on “LIVE: Chauvin Trial Day 12 – Meet the Chauvin Trial Jury Instructions”

  1. Unfortunately, I believe that the jury is tainted in that they can’t help but see what’s happening around them in the city. They can’t help but know (or believe) that if they find Chauvin not guilty or guilty of a lesser offense, there will be riots and the jury members (and their families, houses, places of work, etc.) will be found and attacked. This will be part of their deliberations, whether said out loud or just thought to themselves.

    I’d like to believe that the jury will deliberate on ONLY the facts, but we all know that won’t happen. I know if I were a member of the jury, after hearing all the testimony so far, I could not find him guilty because there is reasonable doubt, based on what I’ve heard from listening to the daily examinations and crosses, etc. (thanks, Andrew, for these – I’m enjoying them immensely).

    I don’t believe for one minute that some of the jurors haven’t heard / see / talked about the case with family and friends. This may end up as a hung jury…which means everyone will have to go through this all over again (after the riots, of course).

    It would be wonderful if they could read these summaries, as they would see the truth – that there is reasonable doubt as to the cause of Floyd’s death. I know they can’t, though.

    1. Its absurd to think these jurors aren’t going home and viewing media and other content. Unfortunately they’re all being exposed to CNN and whoever else going nonstop about what a slam dunk the prosecution has put on. How this couldn’t taint them, I don’t know.

    1. Attorney Andrew Branca

      At the very least they receive jury forms that list out the specific legal elements of each crime charged. They don’t need to simply memorize the instructions.

  2. With regard to Mr. Hall, what was the conclusion of the order from the judge? I am unfamiliar with the MN system. Ultimately saying “I invoke my 5th amendment right” about a half dozen times would play well with the jury. Not being able to even see or hear Mr. Hall would be quite the lost opportunity for the defense. Mr. Branca, could you weigh in?

  3. Brian O'Halloran

    Where can one get the actual transcripts from the trial? Maybe only available at end of trial? I can’t seem to find any on line. Thanks for your coverage!!

  4. Your second degree murder instructions appear to apply to a charge of second conventional murder, which is a general intent crime. I was under the impression Chauvin was charged with second degree felony murder, which does not require an “intent to kill.” My understanding was the “intent” required for second degree felony murder is the “intent to commit the underlying felony” upon which the strict liability crime of felony murder is based. My understanding was in this case, the jury must find an unlawful (unjustifiable or inexcusable) intent to cause a temporary but substantial impairment of a bodily function of George Floyd (third degree assault) In other words, Chauvin is charged with accidentally causing the death of George Floyd while in the process of committing the felony of third degree assault.

  5. The third degree assault instructions, the justified use of force instructions, and possibly the excuse instructions (mistake of fact and such) are what is going to determine the verdict. For felony murder, “causes the death” is a pretty broad term that only requires a casual relationship between the death and the felony.

    The death might be from natural causes or from homicide, and if from homicide the homicide itself might be justified, excused, or felonious. In felony murder the malice aforethought is implied by law (Blackstone), and Minnesota law implies malice aforethought when the death occurs during the course of another felony and that felony merely had a casual relationship to the death.

    Unless Chauvin’s use of force is found to be justified or excused, Chauvin is toast.

  6. The narrative that best fits what I have seen and heard is that Floyd was in the process of going from a higher level of fentanyl to a lower level of fentanyl and was in withdrawal. The cardiac arrests that occur with fentanyl are due to withdrawal since fentanyl is a vasodilator. Withdrawal leads to construction of the blood vessels, which in Floyd’s case were already compromised. It would also explain why he said he had pain all over and why he had foam around his mouth – suggesting pulmonary edema, which would make breathing difficult and CPR unlikely to be effective. Taking extra fentanyl and meth would then fit with overdose, masked a bit by the meth, fentanyl slowing breathing and dilating the coronary arteries a bit, bringing some relief, while meth was acting to re-constrict the vessels. What might help the defence is if they had an addictions physician consider the evidence.

  7. I have taught at a law school in Minnesota for forty years. Minnesota case law is thin on almost every issue in both civil and criminal law. Often non-existent.

    Often the only mention, not the holding, is in a case over 100 years old that has been overwhelmed by the advances in American Common Law during that period. That is, there isn’t any law whatsoever on the deep questions. And, even worse, trial judges are not encouraged to look to other states with similar or identical statutory language but rather choose, as Judge Cahill did to punt. Thus Minnesota becomes an isolated backward island trying to cope with radio waves using semaphore flags.

    Our appellate courts are also very political (small “p”). Tell me the 3 judge panel on our 15 judge Court of Appeals and I can predict the decision 4 out of 5 times. The same is, unfortunately true of our Supreme Court (5D vs 2R) although it doesn’t use panels. Both are, of course, non partisan*.

    * More on that when I have a free four hours.

    1. Attorney Andrew Branca

      Thanks for that insight! Minnesota is not alone in being light on case law, many of the relatively low population states are that way (whereas CA has had to make most of its appellate decisions non-citable, just to keep the population of citable cases to a reasonable level).

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