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This week the early stages of the trial begin in the killing of George Floyd, the police killing that ignited a worldwide movement last May. Jury selection is normally a one to two-day process in lower profile cases. However, given the notoriety of this case, officials expect it to last up to three weeks.
The Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial will be held, has been fortified with metal fencing, concrete barriers, and razor wire ahead of the opening statements later this month. National Guard soldiers will also be in Minneapolis later this month to conduct security checks before the trial.
Former chief Hennepin County public defender Mary Moriarty said “no matter what a potential juror has seen or heard, can they set that aside and base their decision on evidence in court and the law the judge gives them?” Given the media attention this case has received over the last year, it’d be virtually impossible to field a jury that has not heard of Floyd’s death.
In December of 2020, prospective jurors were sent a 16-page questionnaire asking them to answer questions about Black Lives Matter protests, blue lives matter, views on defunding police and racial discrimination. Beginning this week, some prospective jurors who completed the questionnaire will be questioned one-by-one in court in a process known as voir dire.
The judge will first ask questions of the prospective jury members. The defense will follow and then the prosecution. If either the defense or prosecution believes the person cannot be impartial in the case, they can ask the court to dismiss the person for cause. Each side has unlimited challenges for cause.
Officials charged Chauvin with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The second-degree unintentional murder charge alleges that Chauvin killed Floyd “without intent” while he committed or attempted to commit felony third-degree assault,. The law defines it as inflicting “substantial” bodily harm and is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “his culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk and consciously took the chances of causing death or great bodily harm.” “Culpable negligence” is essentially a heightened form of ordinary negligence, Moriarty explained. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
An earlier charge of third-degree murder was dismissed in October as the judge ruled it did not apply to this case. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the judge should reconsider the state’s motion to reinstate the third-degree murder charge.
On Monday, the state moved to stop jury selection until all parties resolve the appeal. Though, Judge Cahill ruled against doing so. The state then moved to appeal that ruling. So Cahill moved the start of jury selection to Tuesday to see whether the court can proceed.