Columns

The Verdict in Derek Chauvin's Trial Is Not a Reflection of Anything Other Than the Facts of the Case

AP Photo/Noah Berger

The media narrative about the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should disturb you if you are concerned with due process. It is a criminal trial, and the jury must use the standard beyond a reasonable doubt to find Chauvin guilty of anything. This article does not advocate for either finding. Instead, it promotes the idea that Chauvin’s guilt or innocence must rely on the facts in the case and whether or not they prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

This idea is fundamental to our justice system, but it appears almost no talking heads in the media and none of the activist lawyers recall that principle. The narrative is beginning to sound a lot more like mob justice, with the threat of a repeat performance of last summer’s violent riots hanging in the air. In a civilized society based on due process, the City of Minneapolis and American citizens should accept this. Unfortunately, with the barricaded court building, heightened security, and National Guard at the ready, we seem resigned to it.

The lawyer for George Floyd’s family, Benjamin Crump, wrote this in an editorial for USA Today:

A guilty verdict would also show progress — a long overdue sign that America is finally ready to not just confront but eradicate the racism mired in police activity that has been evident but ignored for decades.

As a lawyer, Crump should know this is not what a verdict demonstrates. A guilty verdict would show that the jury unanimously found the evidence proves Derek Chauvin’s guilt for the crime’s specific elements beyond a reasonable doubt. That is it. It is not a reflection on society, a symbol of progress, or a reflection on any other police officer or department.

The verdict’s basis is the complete set of circumstances present during the nearly full hour of bodycam footage that documents the interaction between the shop employee, George Floyd, his companions, and the Minneapolis police officers summoned to the scene on May 25, 2020. Not anyone’s perception of what should happen based on their own experience, prejudice, or thoughts about America’s history.

Truly stupid people with platforms also feel the need to weigh in. Mediocre comedienne and constitutional scholar Chelsea Handler, for example:

According to Handler, there is no need for a trial when you have seen a tenth of the story on video. Of course, the nine-minute, twenty-nine-second viral video clip is the only one Chelsea has ever seen. The only one demonstrated liars, like Benjamin Crump, want you to consider when forming your opinion. The clip is out of context and brutally emotional. Crump is the same lawyer who said Jacob Blake was unarmed when police shot him in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in another out-of-context viral video. The media carried Crump’s water on that claim, and Kenosha burned as part of the 2020 Summer of Rage.

Then there is former congressman and former Republican Joe Walsh shrieking like a teen girl on Twitter:

Imagine thinking you stand for freedom when you think due process is not required and only a single element of the entire interaction matters. It might shock Walsh to find out that the hold Chauvin used is part of Minneapolis police officers’ training. It was not applied to put pressure on his trachea, and the medical examiner found no evidence that it did. How this will factor into the trial remains to be seen.

The legal teams will also bring many other elements of the situation into evidence. The defense will present the level of fentanyl and methamphetamines in George Floyd’s system. The Hennepin County medical examiner’s statement that if George Floyd had been found dead, it would have been considered an overdose will be an issue. The defense team will present Floyd’s medical condition, his COVID-19 status, his behavior resisting arrest, and his constant complaints of trouble breathing long before he was on the ground. The fact that first responders are taught if someone can talk, they can breathe may be noted.

Legal commentators from the Right like Ben Shapiro and the Left like Barbara McQuade have both noted that based on the facts of the case and the elements of the crimes Chauvin has been charged with, a conviction will be difficult. That is because of due process and the evidentiary standard in a criminal trial matter. Even Vice President Kamala Harris said convicting Chauvin will be difficult. She also said people are conditioned to trust police officers. Perhaps she doesn’t recall the events of the last nine months or the disgusting ad she made with Joe Biden during the campaign.

No American should celebrate either verdict. A guilty verdict does not mean anything other than that the evidence proved the criminal elements beyond a reasonable doubt. An acquittal doesn’t mean George Floyd’s family did not lose a brother and a son. Not every tragic thing that happens is a crime. It is imperative that Americans circle back to the fundamental principles of our justice system, understanding that due process may not always serve anyone’s preferred narrative.