Former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was recently released on bond, has now had his third-degree murder charge dismissed. The charge was dropped on Oct. 21, 2020. However, two serious criminal charges remain pending against him, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Many are wondering, why would one of Chauvin’s charges be dismissed? As a result of the dismissal of the charge, Governor Walz activated the state’s national guard in light of previous protests. Due to the tension surrounding Chauvin’s trial, he has been advised to leave the state of Minnesota. Still, questions remain as to why the third-degree charge was dismissed, and what it could mean for the progression of Chauvin’s case.
In the state of Minnesota, third-degree murder essentially involves someone causing the death of an individual without intent to kill, while also causing danger to others. For example, someone may fire a gun in a crowd and cause death, without necessarily intending to kill anyone in particular. Although Chauvin caused physical and direct harm to George Floyd, he did not cause harm to anyone in the near vicinity. The court reasoned the third-degree charge cannot possibly be proven because a risk of harm to others cannot be shown. In the state of Minnesota, for the third-degree charge to stand against Chauvin, he would have had to put others in danger, not just Floyd. Chauvin, however, only caused harm and risk of harm to Floyd, as his actions did not endanger bystanders.
For the second-degree murder charge, the state will attempt to prove Chauvin unintentionally caused the death of George Floyd, while using physical force, amounting to a felony, without premeditation. To prove the second-degree manslaughter charge, the state will attempt to prove Chauvin caused the death of Floyd through his culpable negligence which created an unreasonable risk and consciously took chances of causing death or great bodily harm.
Chauvin’s charge of second-degree unintentional murder was likely not dismissed due to Chauvin’s use of physical force on Floyd, while unintentionally causing his death. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin had specific intent to murder Floyd would be difficult, considering that there is little evidence for pre-meditation. However, it is clear from video evidence that Chauvin used prolonged physical force on Floyd during the arrest, which led to unintentional death. Therefore, the court reasoned it should be left to the jury whether the state can meet the elements of this charge.
Justification for upholding manslaughter in the second degree stems from the evidence of Chauvin’s demonstration of extreme negligence toward Floyd, creating an unreasonable risk to Chauvin’s life, while knowingly causing physical harm or death. It is likely that these charges were upheld due to several factors: Chauvin remained with his knee on the dorsal region of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd voiced that he could not breathe adequately. Chauvin consciously caused harm to Floyd by ignoring him. Again, the court reasoned that because of these factors a jury should determine whether the state can meet its burden of proof on this charge.
Now that one charge has been dismissed, Chauvin’s case will now proceed with two of the three original charges. Chauvin’s three fellow officers will also still appear in court, following denial of their requests that all their charges be dismissed due to lack of probable cause. As it stands, all four defendants will stand trial, with only one of nine total charges dismissed. Their trial date will likely occur sometime in March 2021. However, there are other motions still undecided, so there could be some changes to the trial scheduling. As with any criminal case, there is also the possibility that a plea agreement is reached and one or more of the cases are resolved short of trial.
For more information on murder, manslaughter, and other criminal charges, contact a knowledgeable attorney at the BK Law Group. A member of our legal team could explain your charges and expertly advise you of all your options moving forward.