As the trial of Derek Chauvin– the former police officer being tried for the use of excessive force that reportedly led to the death of George Floyd– approaches, charges of murder in the second degree are announced against the defendant.
On 25 May, 2020, George Floyd, 46, died in the custody of Chauvin and three other officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as reported by the New York Times just days after Floyd’s death. What initially began as a routine counterfeit arrest quickly intensified as the officers struggled to restrain Floyd. The incident culminated in Derek Chauvin’s infamous kneel on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, during which a crowd developed and Floyd gasped out “I can’t breathe” several times before losing consciousness. Resuscitation efforts failed. In the months which followed, Floyd’s death sparked an unprecedented wave of protests and political unrest surrounding police brutality and issues of racial injustice.
Derek Chauvin is being charged with both 2nd degree murder and 2nd degree manslaughter under Minnesota law. However, controversy remains regarding Floyd’s cause of death, and the intent of Chauvin’s actions. In August, Chauvin’s defense moved to dismiss the charges entirely. According to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Autopsy, Floyd’s death resulted primarily from cardiac arrest— largely due to hypertensive heart disease, and the excessive presence of fentanyl, methamphetamines, cannabinoids in Floyd’s system. However, independent examiners hired by the Floyd family concluded otherwise, attributing the cause of death as “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.” The latter autopsy would more conclusively lay blame on Chauvin.
The most challenging hurdle for the prosecution to overcome will be a 2nd degree murder charge. According to Richard Frase, a criminal law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, “[second degree felony murder] does not require proof of intent to kill but rather proof of intent to assault someone… if death results… the assailant can be culpable of murder,” as noted in an NBC report. In all, the prosecution must prove that Chauvin was not simply reacting aggressively to Floyd’s actions, but actively seeking to assault him. While the neck-restraining technique is commonly used, Officer Mylon Masson of Hennepin Technical College noted that “Once the [officer] is in control, then you release… you use it ‘till the threat has stopped.” Derek Chauvin used this method for over eight minutes. If this point is used against Chauvin, it could leave him in a position facing a charge of murder in the second degree. If landed, a second degree murder charge allows for a maximum sentence of 40 years. Following Chauvin’s trial, the three officers present at Floyd’s death will stand trial for aiding and abetting second degree murder and manslaughter.
ARTICLE BY: DAVID NISSING
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON WOLF
PHOTO CREDITS: NY DAILY NEWS