Jury Selection to Begin in Floyd Trial 03/08 06:10
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The fate of a former Minneapolis police officer who
pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck as the Black man said he couldn't
breathe will be decided by 12 Hennepin County residents picked after extensive
grilling about their views on police and the justice system.
Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is charged
with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. Picking a jury is
expected to take at least three weeks, as prosecutors and defense attorneys try
to weed out people who may be biased against them.
"You don't want jurors who are completely blank slates, because that would
mean they're not in tune at all with the world," Susan Gaertner, a former
prosecutor, said. "But what you want is jurors who can set aside opinions that
have formed prior to walking into the courtroom and give both sides a fair
Floyd was declared dead May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee
against Floyd's neck for about nine minutes, holding his position even after
Floyd went limp as he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach. Floyd's death
sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a
nationwide reckoning on race.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial
on aiding and abetting charges.
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that pretrial publicity of the case
and the subsequent violent unrest in Minneapolis would make it impossible to
find an impartial jury in Hennepin County. But Judge Peter Cahill said last
year that moving the trial probably wouldn't cure the problem of a potentially
tainted jury pool because "no corner of the State of Minnesota" has been
shielded from pretrial publicity.
The potential jurors --- who must be at least 18, U.S. citizens and
residents of Hennepin County --- were sent questionnaires to determine how much
they have heard about the case and whether they've formed any opinions. Besides
biographical and demographic information, jurors were asked about prior
contacts with police, whether they have protested against police brutality and
whether they believe the justice system is fair.
Some of the questions get specific, such as how often a potential juror has
watched the bystander video of Floyd's arrest, or whether they carried a sign
at a protest and what that sign said.
Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney, said prosecutors will likely seek out
jurors who have favorable opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement or might
have more outrage over Floyd's death, while Chauvin's attorneys would likely
favor jurors who support the police.
Unlike typical jury selection proceedings, this jury pool will be questioned
one by one instead of in a group. The judge, defense attorney and prosecutors
will all get to ask questions. The defense can object to up to 15 potential
jurors without giving a reason; prosecutors can block up to nine with no reason
given. The other side can object to these so-called peremptory challenges if
they believe the sole reason for disqualifying a juror is race or gender.
Both sides can also argue to dismiss an unlimited number of jurors "for
cause," meaning they must provide a reason why they believe that juror
shouldn't serve. Those situations can get into some detailed machinations,
Brandt said, and it's up to the judge to decide whether a juror stays or goes.
"Sometimes there is some tortured questioning," Brandt said.
He said that even if a juror says they have had a negative interaction with
the police, or a negative opinion about Black Lives Matter, the key will be
trying to find out whether they can put those past experiences or opinions
aside and be fair.
"We all walk into these with biases. The question is, can you put those
biases aside and be fair in this case," he said.
Jury selection will end after 14 people are picked -- 12 jurors who will
deliberate the case and two alternates who won't be part of deliberations
unless needed. The jurors will be escorted to the courthouse daily and
sequestered during deliberations. Their names will be kept confidential until
further order of the court.
The number of seats in the courtroom has been limited to maintain social
distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seats for jurors have been spaced
out. Like others in the courtroom, jurors will be required to wear masks.
The earliest opening statements will begin is March 29.