Following a summer of protests over the death of George Floyd, one of the most anticipated trials of police violence is about to begin. Many are wondering which specific criminal charges former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is facing.
What are the charges being brought against Derek Chauvin and what does the state need to prove?
Chauvin is facing three charges: second degree unintentional felony murder, third degree “depraved mind” murder, and second degree manslaughter.
WHAT WE FOUND
While the Minnesota statutes for each of Derek Chauvin’s three charges are notably different, there is an important similarity.
“None of the charges require the state to prove that Derek Chauvin intentionally killed Mr. Floyd,” said Rachel Moran, a professor at University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. “The difference in the three charges is really mostly about Derek Chauvin’s mental state.”
For the first charge of second degree unintentional felony murder, the state needs to prove Chauvin committed a felony, in this case assault, and it led to Floyd’s death.
Moran said this means proving that Chauvin knew he was committing a crime and that he was assaulting Floyd when the 46-year-old died as a result.
The charge of third degree “depraved mind” murder means that the prosecution must prove Chauvin caused the death of Floyd with an act “eminently dangerous to others… without regard for human life.”
According to Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, that charge means killing someone while doing something extremely and extraordinarily dangerous.
“Common examples are things like playing Russian roulette or firing a gun into a crowd,” Sampsell-Jones said. “That’s similar to third degree murder, killing someone while doing something very risky, but the degree of risk is less.”
Charging Chauvin with these three charges gives the jury different options, according to Moran.
Sampsell-Jones said the prosecution wants to make sure it gets a conviction.
“If the jurors are initially divided, after a couple days of arguing it out, they sometimes get tired and say, let’s just pick the middle one. So if that happens here, the prosecution still gets a murder conviction,” he says.
The maximum sentence in Minnesota for second degree murder is 40 years in prison, 25 years for third degree murder, and 10 years for manslaughter. But through Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines for someone with no prior conviction like Chauvin, a second and third degree murder conviction would likely carry a sentence of 12.5 years each and four years for manslaughter. If Chauvin is convicted on more than one charge, he will only serve a sentence for the most severe.
“The prosecution has indicated they’ll seek an upward departure from those guidelines,” Sampsell-Jones said. “So Judge Cahill, if Derek Chauvin is convicted, could ultimately go above those guidelines.”
So how hard will it be for the prosecution to convict Chauvin of any charges? Ultimately, the burden will be on the state to prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.