This is called a false start. On March 8, the trial in Minneapolis of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer accused of the murder of African-American George Floyd was delayed for procedural reasons. The police officer has been charged with murder and manslaughter, but could also be charged with third degree murder (meaning willful violence resulting in death). One way for prosecutors to have an intermediate charge if the charge of intentional murder (punishable by 40 years in prison) is too difficult to prove.
When it officially begins, the first weeks of this highly symbolic judicial soap opera were to be devoted to the selection of the jury. The prosecution and the defense will have several weeks to choose the twelve members who will have to decide whether or not to condemn Derek Chauvin. Looking back at the past decade in the United States, few police officers who killed blacks in high-profile cases have been charged. In the majority of cases, the grand juries concluded that the police could reasonably feel in danger and therefore had the right to retaliate with force. But the situation is different for the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was filmed resting his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. And whose video has been around the world. The defense strategy will boil down to saying that the black forty-something has in fact died of an overdose of fentanyl.
A sixteen-page questionnaire on the police, racism and their media
Despite the force of this video, which has sparked anti-racist protests on an unprecedented scale in the country, lawyers must find jurors who have not already made up their minds about the guilt of the accused. “But it’s going to be very difficult for the judge and the lawyers to appoint a jury, immediately warns Margaret Bull Kovera, professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. They will ask jurors if they can put aside what they saw or heard outside of court so that they can only base their verdict on the law and the evidence presented during the trial. But it won’t be easy ” According to the psychologist, studies show that people influenced by what they see outside of court are not particularly aware of this influence: “Almost everyone says they can be impartial and fair” she specifies.
Thus, during screening, prosecution and defense lawyers should look for these potential signs of bias among jurors, including examining their political views. Before coming to court (where everything will be done to ensure their anonymity), the jurors received a sixteen-page questionnaire that asks them about the police, racism as well as their favorite media and podcasts. Future jury members will have to say, for example, whether they support the definition of the Minneapolis police, whether they trust the same police, or whether they think the media is exaggerating racial discrimination. “Have they been at Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter pro-police protests?” Do they belong to organizations that would indicate a particular preference? What TV channel are they watching? “ those are the kinds of questions lawyers will ask, says Margaret Bull Kovera.
The prosecution and the defense will be entitled to a joker
This does not mean that the defense will be able to disqualify all the jurors who read the New York Times ! Both camps have two options for dismissing jurors: either by trying to prove to the judge that this person is too biased, or by using wild cards. The defense has the right to exclude 15 jurors without giving any reason. The prosecution can only eliminate it 9.
However, appointing a sufficiently impartial jury will be essential to the legitimacy of the final verdict. Last July, the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the co-perpetrator of the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, was rejected by the court. Judges indeed considered that the jury which had condemned him was not impartial – one of the jurors had notably posted insulting comments against Tsarnaev on social networks.