Derek Chauvin Trial Begins

Olivia Allery, staff writer
A photo of Minneapolis City Hall, lined with concertina wire in preparation for the Derek Chauvin trial, taken by Lorie Shaull on March 3, 2021.

All eyes across the nation are on the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter in the murder of George Floyd. His trial began on Tuesday with the jury selection process, with three jurors seated by the day’s end. 

A photo of the Hennepin County Government Center, surrounded by security fencing in preparation for the Derek Chauvin trial, taken by Lorie Shaull on March 3, 2021.

Although opening arguments will not begin until the end of March, the trial has already been met with passionate protestors, who gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday. Feeling their response during the Minneapolis uprising last summer was insufficient, city officials have braced themselves for insurrection by installing security gates, fortified wiring and law enforcement personnel all across downtown Minneapolis.

The courts want to make sure that there is a fair and impartial jury, just as is required for any other court case. To achieve this, the Minnesota courts sent out a questionnaire in December to potential jurors. The questionnaire assesses topics including potential jurors’ personal knowledge of the case, media viewing habits and connections to any key figures in the case. 

The courts are not aiming to find jurors with no knowledge of Floyd’s murder – in such a high-profile case, such a thing would be nigh-impossible – but are rather searching for jurors who have not already made up their minds on the case, and would be able to think flexibly during a fair and equitable trial process.

On Monday, Judge Peter Cahill, prosecutors and the defense team questioned 14 potential jurors for the trial. The jurors were split into two groups of seven and were each questioned further. Either the prosecution or the defense side could ask the juror to be dismissed “for cause” if there was reasoning that a particular person would not be a fair juror for the case. However, Cahill delayed the actual jury selection until Tuesday. He wanted to hold off on the jury selection process until the Court of Appeals had made a decision about the prosecution wanting to charge Chauvin with third degree murder instead of second degree and manslaughter charges. The prosecution also requested that the jury selection and trial be pushed back while this third degree murder is pending, since Cahill may not have jurisdiction over the case if the third degree murder charge is put on. Still, Cahill intends to move forward with the case. “Unless the Court of Appeals tells me otherwise, we’re going to keep moving,” he said in court on Monday.

Chauvin’s trial will last from anywhere between two to four weeks after the opening statements are spoken on Monday, March 29. If Chauvin is convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, his sentence will be between 10 ¾ and 15 years, with an additional 41-57 months if he is also convicted of second-degree manslaughter, according to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commissions’s 2020 guidelines. The other three officers involved with Floyd’s murder, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, have been charged with aiding in the murder and manslaughter, and will have a separate trial beginning in late August.