Chauvin, Convicted of Murder, Will Most Likely Appeal

Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter on Tuesday after three weeks of trial and approximately one day of deliberation.

George Floyd died in Minneapolis last May after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his back and neck for more than nine minutes. During the trial, the prosecution argued Chauvin’s actions amounted to unreasonable and excessive force, causing the oxygen deprivation that led to Floyd’s death. The defense suggested an underlying heart condition and drugs in Floyd’s system were enough to stir reasonable doubt. Ultimately, Chauvin was convicted of all charges.

Many praised the verdict as a step toward police accountability. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday it would investigate possible patterns of discrimination and excessive force in the Minneapolis Police Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Chauvin verdict “does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.”

However, the Chauvin case is not over. It is likely Chauvin will appeal his conviction and sources speculate he could raise many issues. Among them, a failure to sequester jurors or move the trial due to publicity, improper testimony, misconduct during the prosecution’s closing argument, and ineffective assistance of counsel.

Defendants may potentially appeal a criminal conviction on legal error, juror misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Legal errors may encompass improperly admitted evidence, incorrect jury instructions, or lack of sufficient evidence. An appeal on a legal error issue will only be granted if the appellate court finds the error actually affected the outcome of the case.

Likewise, juror misconduct may be an issue on appeal where the jury conducted itself improperly during trial or deliberations, most often due to improper communications with witnesses or counsel, the use of inappropriate experiments, or drug and alcohol use.

Ineffective assistance of counsel may arise when but for a defendant’s attorney’s actions, the outcome of the case would have been different.

Failure to Sequester Jurors or Move the Trial: Chauvin may argue the court’s failure to sequester jurors or move the trial amounted to an appealable error influencing the jury. Chauvin’s attorney attempted to delay the trial after the city of Minneapolis settled for $27 million in a civil suit over George Floyd’s death. He later attempted to obtain a mistrial over remarks Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters made that protesters should “get more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted.

Improper Testimony: Chauvin may argue witness testimony was improperly admitted, amounting to a legal error. Among the testimony that could be the subject of an appeal, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin’s conduct violated department “ethics and values” when the testimony instead was to focus on training and policies.

Misconduct During the Prosecution’s Closing Argument: Chauvin may argue the prosecution’s misconduct also inappropriately affected the outcome of his case when the prosecution “belittled” the defense in their closing argument (Minnesota has a rule against this).

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Chauvin may argue his attorney failed to object to a host of inappropriate evidence, including emotional witness testimony, that directly affected the outcome of his case.

Importantly, appeals only focus on a review of the trial court’s proceedings and evaluate legal, not factual, issues. An appeal is not a retrial.

Additional Reading

After Chauvin’s conviction on all counts, what will his appeal look like?, ABA Journal (April 21, 2021)

DOJ To Investigate Minneapolis Police Over Possible Patterns Of Excessive Force, NPR (April 21, 2021)

Revisiting Key Moments From The Derek Chauvin Trial, NPR (April 20, 2021)

Criminal Appeals, Justia

Image Credit: Denis Roger /