George Floyd was so badly injured by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota that he died of his injuries in a hospital a short time later. Chauvin has been in custody since last Saturday. The facts seem clear, since the entire act was documented on video, there were many witnesses. But how is the case against Chavin going to be, what punishment is he facing?
What exactly are the allegations against Chauvin?
Police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, had pressed Floyd’s knee against his neck for more than eight minutes, as video images show. The policeman has not let up either, although Floyd has said several times that he is out of breath. Chauvin was only arrested five days after the brutal police operation. Investigators have accused Chauvin of “third degree murder” and homicide.
The American judicial system differentiates between different variants of the murder charge. “First degree murder” means murder with intent, “second degree murder” essentially corresponds to homicide, which the intent lacks. “Third degree murder” is only used in the US states of Minneapolis, Florida and Pennsylvania; in Minnesota, he describes the so-called “depraved-indifference murder” – meaning murder without intent, but with an indifference to life.
What evidence is there?
The most important evidence is the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses and the video images that show Chauvin’s extremely brutal and minute-long action against Floyd.
There are also several expert reports:
In an autopsy commissioned by the Floyd family, an expert came to the conclusion that “suffocation from persistent pressure” had led to death. The pressure on Floyd’s neck had cut off the blood supply to the brain, while pressure on the back had prevented breathing.
This contradicts the official autopsy, which found that the victim died of cardiovascular arrest due to pressure on the neck. In addition, poisoning due to an alleged intake of methampetamines was found. In addition, Floyd is said to have suffered from pre-existing heart and blood pressure diseases, both of which contributed to death. Floyd’s family denies the pre-existing conditions.
What punishment does the policeman face?
For conditionally committed murder, the maximum sentence in Minnesota is 25 years. In most cases, however, the convictions on this charge, according to lawyers in the US media, do not extend beyond five years.
What are the challenges for the judiciary?
US lawyers expect the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, where the case is being heard, to face a number of legal obstacles that could make Chauvin’s sentence difficult.
Paul Butler, ex-United States attorney and professor at the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, points out in the Washington Post the fundamental difficulty in convicting US police officers. Butler, himself an African American, speaks of a “blue wall of silence” that prosecutors in the United States keep encountering when dealing with criminal offenses committed by police officers (alluding to the police officers’ blue uniforms). Cooperation between police officers, who are often the main witnesses in such cases, is generally “uncooperative to hostile,” Butler said. This even applies to the jury, which ultimately decides on the guilty verdict. “Even if the judges are convinced that a crime has been committed, they often reluctantly judge the accused because they think that it is unfair to convict a police officer who made mistakes when he tried to do his job . “
There are currently many critical voices who consider the two charges to be “insufficient”. added Buttler, who is an African American himself. This is “quite understandable”. However, the lawyer leaves no doubt that the charges mentioned so far are, in his view, entirely in accordance with applicable US law.
What’s next – and when is the process expected?
Because of the “high legal hurdles”, CNN expert Elie Honig assumes that the formulation of the relatively reluctant charges will take “several months”. It is currently unclear how the public protests could at least influence the timing of the indictment. A temporal forecast therefore hardly seems possible at the moment.
How did the US judiciary deal with police officers in similar cases?
Of the approximately 100 police officers who have been charged with murder in the United States since 2005, most have been acquitted and only 35 have been convicted, adds the judicial expert. However, most of them were held accountable not for murder, but for negligent killing. For civilians, however, the conviction rate for murder is 90 percent.
A notorious example was the lawsuit against police officers who beat African-American Rodney King to death in Los Angeles in 1991. After the officials were acquitted a year later, there were serious riots in Los Angeles that left 53 people dead