Derek Chauvin’s lawyer filed a motion Tuesday to grant the former Minneapolis police officer a new trial, alleging a range of misconduct Chauvin’s team argues compromised the fairness of the high-profile proceeding that resulted in his three convictions for murder and manslaughter for the death of George Floyd. Such a filing is customary for a defendant following a conviction and reiterates some of the lines of objection articulated during the trial by Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson. The principal complaints, offered in the motion without any substantiating evidence, centered on how Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill conducted the trial, the jury’s makeup, as well as the environment around the jury panel’s decision-making process. The motion is considered routine and legal experts have generally downplayed its chances of success, as the courts set a high har to overturn a jury decision. The motion is, however, likely indicative of what will be the basis of Chauvin’s appeal and, if dismissed, adds another avenue for the defense to appeal.
The defense argued Cahill’s decision to keep the trial in Minneapolis, rather than move it elsewhere, prevented Chauvin from getting a fair and impartial hearing. Cahill also chose not to sequester the jury throughout the entirety of the proceeding, a decision the defense says, given the charged nature of trial and the national attention given to it, exposed the jurors to an environment of intense media and social pressure. The motion claimed there was “post-testimony, but predeliberation intimidation of the defense’s expert witnesses, from which the jury was not insulated.”
“Not only did such acts escalate the potential for prejudice in these proceedings, they may result in a far-reaching chilling effort on defendants’ ability to procure expert witness—especially in high-profile cases such as those of Mr. Chauvin’s co-defendants—to testify on their behalf,” the motion read. “The publicity was so pervasive and so prejudicial before and during this trial that it amounted to a structural defect in the proceedings.”
The motion also questioned the conduct and makeup of the jury, calling for a hearing into whether jurors “committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations.” The filing comes days after one of the jurors, Brandon Mitchell, a 31-year-old Black man, gave an interview to the Star Tribune after photos circulated on social media showing Mitchell at an event in Washington, D.C. commemorating the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The photo circulated on conservative social media as evidence of bias and that Mitchell did not disclose his attendance on his juror questionnaire that asked if potential jurors had participated in protests or demonstrations about police brutality or police use of force. In the photo taken standing with his two cousins, Mitchell is wearing a t-shirt with an image of Martin Luther King, Jr. with encircled by the words “GET YOUR KNEE OFF OUR NECKS” and “BLM.”
Mitchell said he was forthcoming about his support for Black Lives Matter during jury selection, but he didn’t classify the Washington gathering as a protest, much less one specifically about George Floyd. “It was directly related to MLK’s March on Washington from the ‘60s … The date of the March on Washington is the date,” he told the Star Tribune. The event, which was held in August 2020, “included advocating for racial justice, increasing voter registration, pushing for a new version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and urging participation in the 2020 census,” the Star Tribune reports. “It also focused on police use of force. Floyd’s brother and sister, Philonise and Bridgett Floyd, and family members of others who have been shot by police addressed the crowd.”
Mitchell is the only juror who has spoken publicly since the trial and told multiple media outlets that the jurors had wondered why Chauvin hadn’t testified on his own behalf, instead invoking the Fifth Amendment before the judge while the jury was not present. Judge Cahill instructed the jury not to factor in Chauvin’s non-testimony into their decision-making on his guilt, which the defense has seized upon as another indication that jury’s decision to convict was flawed.