MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — After three weeks of testimony, the city of Minneapolis is preparing for a verdict in the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
Criminal justice experts say the outcome of the trial could lead to widespread protesting, police reform, or civil unrest across the nation.
From tearful eyewitness accounts to various medical experts’ perspectives on the death of George Floyd, the nation has heard all testimony from both sides.
The prosecution took 10 days for testimony. They focused on calling witnesses who claimed Floyd’s death was caused solely by then-officer Derek Chauvin’s knee placed on Floyd’s neck.
The defense took two days. They focused on proving Floyd’s death was caused by a heart condition and illegal drug use.
Dmitriy Shakhnevich is a criminal defense attorney and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is not connected to the case.
“One of the primary arguments for the defense, in this case, was that whatever act that officer Chauvin took did not cause the death. So that’s going to be one of the most important and really the primary determination that this jury has to make,” said Shakhnevich.
Chauvin chose not to take the stand; invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. It’s a move that Shakhnevich says could work in Chauvin’s favor.
“The fact that officer Chauvin elected not to testify is also incredibly important. Oftentimes in cases like this jurors want to see what was going through a defendant’s mind, what was in the defendant’s head,” he said. “He could have been doing that, because if there is a conviction here he may want to address some sort of post-conviction effort -whether that being an appeal or something else.”
Shakhnevich says despite all testimony from both sides, video evidence will make the biggest impact on the case.
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“They say that in every criminal case there’s really two pieces of evidence that are virtually impossible to overcome at trial one of them is DNA. And the second is video evidence. The video evidence in this case is going to be incredibly important,” said Shakhnevich.
Charles Coleman Jr. is a civil rights attorney and former Brooklyn-area prosecutor. He believes the personal testimony highlighting who George Floyd was as a person will be a key for the jury making their decisions.
“I think that the testimony and the evidence that was able to humanize him is critically important in this trial because it goes from someone who was just on the video to where you understand this was a person who’s a father. This was a person who’s a brother. This was a person who brought joy to a number of people’s lives,” said Coleman.
From his perspective, the defense could come out on top if they can get a deadlocked jury.
“They will receive instructions from a judge that say you can believe some, none, or all of the testimony that you’ve heard from any particular witness. If they can get any one juror to basically buy into that, they will potentially have an opportunity to secure a hung jury. Because all it takes is one juror who refuses to unanimously convict or unanimously acquit for that matter,” said Coleman.
Brian Higgins is a former New Jersey police chief. He’s spent 27 years as a public servant in various roles. He says if Chauvin is found guilty, there could still be backlash if he faces a short sentencing.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect on law enforcement for a long time. The social impact of this is going to be that he gets a sentence that reflects his abuse of power as an officer if that what he’s convicted of and the taking of a life if he is found guilty of doing such,” said Higgins.
Regardless of the verdict, Higgins says this case will change policing in America in one way or another.
“Well whether or not it’s deserved, law enforcement in general across the country has really lost community support in a lot of ways. Not completely. There is this distrust. It used to be the complete opposite, from the courts on down to the public. The officer’s got the benefit of the doubt,” said Higgins. “The officer was believed and we had to prove otherwise. I think it’s almost changing to the point that — if not completely changes — to where the public is suspicious of the police, are not confident in the police, and it’s incumbent on the police to prove otherwise. This trial goes to that perception.”
A verdict is expected sometime this week.
Before that happens, Minneapolis public schools will go back to distance learning starting Wednesday ahead of a verdict that could lead to widespread protests.