Washington

What the prosecution and defense have to prove at Derek Chauvin trial

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listen as Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank, questions witness Christopher Martin as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

We’ve seen some of the testimony at the Derek Chauvin trial where they are painstakingly going through all the events of that day and what followed related to the death of George Floyd. Former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss the different approach from the defense and the prosecution.

“We now know from the opening statements and from the questioning of the early witnesses, what the strategy of the prosecution is and the strategy of the defense. Prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of force that Chauvin used was excessive and unreasonable and that that force was the cause of death,” he said.

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“Defense needs to sow seeds of doubt in the jurors’ minds, so that there is reasonable doubt created, number one by arguing that the amount of force Chauvin used was objectively reasonable, regardless of the intent or motivation of Chauvin. And number two, to create reasonable doubt about whether that amount of force — kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 49 seconds — was the cause of death, or whether death was actually caused by the drugs that were in his system at the time.”

The prosecution appeared to be spending so much time on the transaction in the store, the passing of the counterfeit bill, and talking to the clerk. Why?

“Because it goes to their argument as the prosecutors that the amount of force used was excessive and unreasonable, that that Chauvin could have just issued Mr. Floyd a citation for passing a bad $20 bill that he may or may not have even known what was counterfeit,” he said.

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“That then trying to force him into the back of the police car, which Mr. Floyd resisted, then putting them on the ground in response to that resistance, then kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, that was all unreasonable and excessive. It was not objectively reasonable to use that amount of force. That’s the first thing that the prosecution needs to establish before going on to establish that use of force was the proximate cause of Mr. Floyd’s death.”

So, for example, if Floyd had been somehow threatening during that transaction, that would have been a different standard then, Dave asked.

“I think that’s exactly right. If he had used a weapon, if he had not used a weapon but just used his physical advantage — where Mr. Floyd was over 80 pounds heavier and several inches taller than Chauvin — and then tried to take Chauvin down in a wrestling move or something–that would be a different set of circumstances,” McKenna said.

“But those aren’t the facts that we now understand, at least at the point at which he started kneeling on his neck.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM, and on your smart speaker as well. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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