On April 20, 2021, Derek Chauvin was found guilty by a jury for second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter of George Floyd. Essentially, the only option Derek Chauvin has to get out of this situation is through an appeal. Every convicted criminal has the right to appeal their conviction to the Appellate Court system within 90 days of their case’s resolution. In an appeal, no additional evidence may be introduced, nor are any additional claims. However, generally, courts are not adamant on second guessing decisions by juries, especially with strong prosecutorial evidence. The National Post-Conviction Project, a nonprofit, states that 90% of all appeals are denied in the United States. In order to get Chauvin’s ruling overturned, his attorney must argue that the judge made mistakes in the rulings of procedural issues, and that they were severe enough to change the case’s outcome.
At appeal, Chauvin’s acting attorney may argue that the district court trial was not fair and just. It is likely that his attorney would argue that the jury should have been sequestered and that the $27 million settlement to George Floyd’s family should not have been made public. The trial went on for 3 weeks and jurors were free to travel as they pleased. This could have caused great influence on the jurors as outside influences could have affected their judgment. A perfect example of outside influences would be the media, which jurors were not instructed they could not view. Each media source is biased in their own way and could easily affect viewers. Plus, there is the possibility that there was media pressure on the jurors to convict Chauvin. Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters interviewed with reporters and stated, “We’re looking for a guilty verdict” and also urged protestors to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin was found not guilty. During trial, Judge Cahill stated, “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result on this whole trial being overturned.”
In addition, an attorney for Chauvin may argue that it was not fair to have the hearing in George Floyd’s home city, as the jurors could have biases. This creates a further issue as Chauvin’s attorney asked Judge Cahill to not have the trial in Hennepin, which was denied. Chauvin’s attorney could argue that since the crime was conducted and the victim lived in Minneapolis, those chosen for the jury would have pre-conceived notions of biases. Last year, the federal court of appeals overturned the death sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, finding the trial judge hadn’t properly screened jurors to ensure they ignored the publicity surrounding the case. However, criminal cases are rarely ever transferred to other jurisdictions as a jury is supposed to be composed by one’s peers, which would be Hennepin County residents.
Chauvin’s lawyer on appeal may claim that the prosecutor had “belittled” the attorney’s case in trial court. Specifically, during the prosecution’s closing argument, the prosecutor argued that Mr. Nelson’s arguments amounted to “nonsense” or “a story.” Another would be the specific jury instructions that Judge Cahill gave, which confused some of the issues, specifically the third degree charge as another case is doing on appeal. Mohamed Noor, the officer that killed Justine Damond in 2017, is currently appealing his conviction for third degree murder. The issue on that appeal, which would also be applicable to Chauvin’s, is that a person convicted of third degree murder must have targeted several individuals, not only one, as Noor and Chauvin both supposedly had done.
Another possibility would be for Chauvin to claim ineffective assistance of counsel. Although less viable, Chauvin could claim that his attorney’s resistance to object to emotional testimony caused the favor against Chauvin. It is very important for an attorney to make these objections on the record to preserve the right to bring them up on appeal. However, this strategy by Chauvin’s attorney may have been viewed as targeting witnesses for expressing their emotions.
As everybody has a constitutional right to appeal a criminal conviction, so does Derek Chauvin. Overall, Chauvin’s attorney will definitely appeal these convictions, whether that be any of the reasons declared in this article. At this point, nobody has anyway of knowing what exactly will be argued on appeal. Since only around 10% of cases that get appealed are reversed, it would likely be very difficult for Derek Chauvin’s attorney to convince an appellate court to overturn the jurors’ decision. If you have more questions regarding criminal appeals, reach out to a lawyer at BK Law Group for help.