Law & the Courts

Judge Approves Third-Degree Murder Charge against Derek Chauvin in George Floyd Case

A sketch of Judge Peter Cahill presiding over the first day of jury selection in the trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., March 8, 2021 (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

A judge on Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd last May.

The decision by Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill comes one day after the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Chauvin, who allegedly pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground last year.

According to Minnesota law, third-degree murder involves “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.”

Cahill ruled in the fall that the charge didn’t fit Chauvin’s case, as the officer’s actions were focused solely on Floyd.

While that is how the law has been interpreted in other cases, last month an appeals court upheld the third-degree murder conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017. Similarly, Noor’s actions were focused only on Damond.

Prosecutors in Chauvin’s case requested that Cahill bring back the third-degree murder charge in light of the Noor case, though the judge refused.

Prosecutors went to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to ask it to uphold its interpretation of the law and reinstate the additional charge.  The appeals court on Friday said the judge should not have thrown out the third-degree murder charge as the Noor ruling is the precedent.

Potential jurors in Chauvin’s trial will return Thursday to continue the jury selection process that began this week.

As the trial gets underway, defense attorneys for Chauvin are expected to argue that it was Floyd’s preexisting health conditions and his substance use that caused his heart and lungs to stop, not the officer’s actions. Autopsies show Floyd, a smoker who had reportedly spent years using drugs, had a large amount of Fentanyl, a small amount of methamphetamine and THC in his blood.

Hennepin County medical examiner Andrew Baker declared Floyd’s death a homicide in June, citing “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression” as the cause of death.

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