The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Chauvin Verdict Proves the Cynics Wrong

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is handcuffed, after a jury found him guilty on all counts in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., April 20, 2021, in this courtroom sketch. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

On the menu today: Derek Chauvin is convicted, and Minneapolis doesn’t burn; wondering whether the talk of China’s “vaccine diplomacy” was vastly overhyped; and forgive me for an easy dunk on a crazy person.

A Good Day for Idealists, a Bad Day for Cynics

How about that? The police officer got held accountable by a jury after a fair trial. And Minneapolis, and other cities across the country, did not erupt in rioting, looting, or other violence. There were a lot of people who contended, Monday and Tuesday, that “they’re going to riot either way.”

Yes, former police officer Derek Chauvin can file appeals, and perhaps some judge will find the claim of jury intimidation on the part of Maxine Waters or Joe Biden compelling. Yes, Nancy Pelosi promptly disrupted the feel-good moment after the verdict by blithely declaring, “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.” Yes, the Las Vegas Raiders look clumsy and buffoonish for tweeting out the message, “I can breathe” after the verdict.

But considering the state of things, those are pretty minor problems. (If you think you’re in a good mood this morning, imagine how insurance companies who cover properties in downtown Minneapolis feel today.)

When a controversial or even indefensible action by a police officer becomes big news, you’ll sometimes encounter instinctive defenders of cops who will offer some variation of this argument: “These guys risk their lives to protect us every day they put on their uniform. You’ve never worn a badge. You’ve never walked a beat. What gives you the right to second-guess their decisions? Who are you to judge?”

That argument can sound compelling, but it’s one that our criminal-justice system explicitly rejects. (Let’s put aside the argument about qualified immunity for a moment.) When a police officer takes action in the line of duty that violates the law or the civil rights of a defendant, the police officer is judged by a jury of his fellow citizens who don’t wear badges. In fact, if you’re a cop, a former cop, or a family member of a cop, there’s a good chance you’ll be among the first dismissed as a potential juror. In other words, we’re all qualified to judge the actions of a police officer — or at minimum, if you qualify for jury duty, our society considers you sufficiently qualified to judge whether the actions of a police officer violated the law.

As Dan McLaughlin lays out:

Juries are often hesitant, and rightly so, to second-guess cops when they make split-second life-and-death decisions. Those decisions may prove wrong, and on occasion they are justly punished as unreasonable, but cops tend to get the benefit of the doubt because most people understand that they need to assess threats to themselves and others in an instant, and it is all too easy to sit in judgment of that at leisure with plenty of time to review the situation, without adrenaline pumping and fear vivid. That can even work in the favor of cops in a case such as the Rodney King beating, an obvious overreaction but one that followed a lengthy high-speed chase that put the cops in genuine fear of death for themselves and others.

None of that was on the table for Chauvin’s defense. George Floyd died slowly, as Chauvin kneeled on him for eight minutes. No jury on earth was especially likely to see this as a reflex reaction in the heat of a moment. The cops had the right and responsibility to use some force to restrain and subdue Floyd, and maybe his death was due in part to other factors besides force. But the extended time involved in this case always made it likely that any reasonable jury would convict Chauvin of some crime bearing responsibility for the death of a man who did not deserve to die.

Our Andy McCarthy charts the outlook for the appeals process:

There is one downside to the quick verdict for prosecutors: the appellate landscape.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe the convictions will be overturned — except for the possibility that the Minnesota supreme court could rule, when it hears a different but similar case in June, that the state’s depraved-indifference homicide statute does not apply to facts such as these.

Nevertheless, there is a serious question about whether Derek Chauvin got a fair trial. That is a separate question from whether the evidence was compelling. And to be sure, the stronger the evidence, the harder it is to show that due process was denied. A reviewing court is apt to conclude that even exemplary due process would not have made a difference.

That said, as soon as jury deliberations got underway, Cahill himself conceded that the prejudicial publicity against Chauvin, exacerbated by Congresswoman Maxine Waters’s inflammatory rhetoric over the weekend, create a significant appellate issue…

The fact that the deliberations were so short and, it would appear, indicative of sparse scrutiny of a complex trial record does not necessarily mean Chauvin was denied due process. But for Chauvin to have any chance of showing that he was denied due process, what had to happen has happened: The deliberations lend themselves to the claim that the jury did not see acquittal as an option.

Earlier in the week, I referred to the issue of policing as one of the blinking red lights facing the Biden administration. So far, the short-term issue of the Chauvin trial verdict and reaction turned out okay.

Who’s Really Leading in ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’?

Have you run across articles touting China’svaccine diplomacy,” contending that by giving other countries lots of free doses of its vaccine, China was surpassing the United States as the most revered, respected, and influential country in the world?

The only catch was that the Chinese-made vaccine works about as well as the Chinese-made personal protective equipment: It’s really hit-and-miss: “On Friday, Chilean authorities released the results of a study of 10.5 million people, showing the [Chinese Sinovac] vaccine was 16 percent effective against infection after one dose and 67 percent effective after a second dose. The study also found it to be 80 percent effective in preventing death from Covid-19 two weeks after a second dose.”

You want COVID-19 protection? Look for the “Made in the USA” label. (Okay, the Germans helped.) The world’s wealthy know the score:

People of means from Latin America are chartering planes, booking commercial flights, buying bus tickets and renting cars to get the vaccine in the United States due to lack of supply at home. . . .

So vaccine seekers who can afford to travel are coming to the United States to avoid the long wait, including people from as far as Paraguay. Those who make the trip must obtain a tourist visa and have enough money to pay for required coronavirus tests, plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars and other expenses.

In Mexico, business is booming for chartered flights to Texas.

What if, once the whole pandemic is in our rear-view mirror, the United States is actually even more revered, respected, and influential than before? One can plausibly argue that China brought the virus to the world, while America brought the solution.

Forgive Me for This Easy Dunk on a Crazy Person

I’m used to getting “fan mail,” but I received a doozy in response to this Corner post about lunatic conspiracy theorist Lin Wood and his desire to be the next chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party:

Mr. Wood DID state that the Bush, Clinton, Obama, and Biden families are involved in child sex trafficking. How do you KNOW he doesn’t have any evidence? I know there is evidence that Pence is guilty of it. The problem is, no court will hear it because the COURTS ARE CORRUPT as well! Do you have evidence that they are innocent?

Really? “The courts are corrupt” as well? Every prosecutor at every level of government, in all 2,300 prosecutors’ offices in all 50 states, all 1,770 judges in the federal court system, all 30,000 state judges, and the thousands of local and county judges? Every single one of them is in on the conspiracy, huh? What, do they hold their meetings in football stadiums?

Can we all agree that if you happen to run across evidence that three former presidents, a former vice president, and the current president are involved in child sex trafficking — or that anyone is involved in any kind of sex trafficking — that you should present your evidence to law enforcement to stop it, and/or the entire public if the police refuse to act, and not just vaguely hint about your evidence of these crimes while speaking at the Health and Freedom Conference in Tulsa, Okla.?

How does that work, exactly? “I’ve learned about a horrific and abominable ongoing crime, and the best way for me to stop it is to become the next chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party”?

ADDENDUM: Sounds as if Joe Biden can get rattled by bad news: “President Biden overruled his top foreign policy and national security aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he kept in place the Trump administration’s record low cap on the number of refugees admitted to the United States, according to three people familiar with the matter.”

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