Citing disturbing video of Floyd’s final moments, prosecutors say Chauvin unintentionally killed Floyd while using excessive force during an arrest on May 25, 2020. Defense attorneys plan to make the case that Floyd died of unrelated medical issues and drug use, and they have argued Chauvin was following proper police protocol.
But the trial itself will focus on questions specific to this case, including Floyd’s autopsy, Chauvin’s mindset and ill-defined legal terms like “depraved mind” and “culpable negligence.”
“Derek Chauvin is the defendant,” CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates explained. “Not the American justice system. Not all police officers.”
The trial will take place at a heavily fortified Hennepin County courthouse surrounded by fencing and law enforcement. Due to Covid-19 precautions, plexiglass barriers have been set up inside the courtroom and witnesses and attorneys are required to wear masks when not speaking.
Opening statements and witness testimony are expected to last about four weeks, followed by deliberations.
Six men and nine women have been chosen to serve on the jury, and ultimately 12 of them will decide Chauvin’s fate.
The three charges against Chauvin are to be considered separate, so he could be convicted of all, some or none of them.
How two lives collided
Chauvin and another officer then arrived to the scene and struggled to get Floyd into the vehicle, the complaint states. Chauvin allegedly pulled Floyd to the ground in a prone position and placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and head. His knee remained there even as Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” said “I’m about to die” and ultimately stopped breathing, the complaint says. He was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after.
The final moments of Floyd’s life, captured on video by appalled and angry bystanders, illustrated in clear visuals what Black Americans have long said about the ways that the criminal justice system dehumanizes Black people.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, all former Minneapolis Police officers, were also on scene with Chauvin and are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
They have pleaded not guilty, and their joint trial will be held this summer. They are not expected to testify in Chauvin’s trial.
What the trial will focus on
The trial will not debate Floyd’s symbolism or the merits of Black Lives Matter. Instead, it will mainly focus on two things: the cause of death and Chauvin’s intent.
Chauvin’s defense attorneys have argued those other conditions were the real cause of death.
To get a guilty verdict, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Chauvin caused Floyd’s death. So a series of forensic pathologists are expected to take the stand to debate this issue, including a likely contentious cross-examination of Dr. Baker.
The three charges differ primarily in how they interpret Chauvin’s intent and mindset during the arrest.
Combined, the charges give jurors three different ways of deciding how liable Chauvin is for Floyd’s death — if at all — and how well he understood the risk to Floyd.
The defense has not indicated whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense. But given the importance of his mindset to the charges, he may do so to try to explain his behavior and gain the jurors’ sympathy.