Derek Chauvin Takes Appeal To Court

Joe Ramlet, opinions editor

A lawyer for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin appeared in court on Jan. 18 to appeal his state court convictions for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd, a Black man, died while Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes as other officers stood by. Chauvin himself was not present at the hearing, but his lawyer, William Mohrman, argued on his behalf in front of a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The official paperwork was filed last April, suggesting numerous issues with the jury process and other procedural errors during the trial.

His legal team’s reasoning to overturn the convictions mostly surrounds the choice by Judge Peter Cahill to deny the motion for a change of venue, that is, moving the trial outside of Hennepin County. The arguments are that the jury within Hennepin County was biased against Chauvin, pressured by the threat of violence to deliver a guilty verdict and should have been sequestered during the whole trial. They suggest too much was going on in the news with the landmark $27 million settlement between the City of Minneapolis and George Floyd’s family as well as the killing of Daunte Wright by former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter at the same time as the trial.

Neal Katyal, representing the state, countered by explaining how Chauvin’s trial was one of the most transparent in the history of the United States. He discredited most of the arguments made by the defense and said even if some may have some merit, “the evidence of Chauvin’s guilt was captured on video for the world to see.”

Even if his state appeal is successful, Chauvin will not be set free. When he was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, he was sentenced to 22 ½ years in state prison. But he was later sentenced to 21 years, to be served at the same time, after pleading guilty in a separate federal court case to violating Floyd’s civil rights. He waived his right to appeal in that plea deal, meaning he will remain in federal prison even if his state sentence is vacated.

The appeals hearing comes at the same time as Tyre Nichols died in the custody of Memphis Police. Five former MPD officers and two former Memphis firefighters were fired as a result of the incident on Jan. 10, where officers allegedly beat, tased and pepper sprayed the Black man for three minutes in what has been compared to the 1991 beating of Rodney King. The family’s attorney, Antonio Romanucci, compared Nichols to a “human piñata” after reviewing body camera footage, which at the time of the publication of this article has yet to be released to the public pending criminal charges.

The other former officers present at Floyd’s murder — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — are also serving time in federal prison for depriving Floyd of his civil rights. Kueng and Lane took plea deals in state court, while Thao is still awaiting a new trial after waiving his right to a jury last October. The Minnesota Court of Appeals will rule on the matter within 90 days.