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:
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:
Here are the standardized jury instructions (CRIMJIG) relevant to the criminal charges in this case:
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
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 Pandora, iHeart, Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, simple RSS feed, and more.
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.]