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How Minnesota’s Procedural Rules Almost Guarantee Derek Chauvin Is Going To Jail

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 while arresting him, killing Floyd in a now-viral video. Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The New Yorker reported that protesters “decried their insufficient severity,” and the charges were later upgraded to second-degree murder. While some have praised the upgraded charges, others have wondered how (or whether) they will stick in court. Chauvin has now pushed to have the charges against him dropped, claiming Floyd died from pre-existing health conditions exacerbated by drug use, according to CNN. Due in part to Minnesota’s “lesser offense” rule, however, Chauvin is almost guaranteed to go to jail.

Too much or not enough?

The escalation of charges was praised by Floyd’s family in a statement obtained by Politico.

“This is a bittersweet moment for the family of George Floyd,” read the statement from the family’s lawyer, Ben Crump. “We are deeply gratified that Attorney General Keith Ellison took decisive action in this case…upgrading the charge against Derek Chauvin to felony second-degree murder. This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd’s body was laid to rest.”

However, Chauvin’s attorneys argue there is no probable cause to support charges of unintentional second-degree and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Some agreed with his attorneys, arguing that the elevation of charges would make a just trial and conviction impossible, or at least less likely.

On the other hand, the prosecutors contend that Floyd’s killing deserves a stricter sentence than that recommended by the state guidelines if Chauvin and the other officers involved are found guilty. (RELATED: Final Moments Of George Floyd’s Life Appear To Have Been Caught by Police Body Camera Footage)

 

The charges against Chauvin

The first charge against Chauvin is “Third Degree Murder – Perpetrating Eminently Dangerous Act and Evincing Depraved Mind.” This charge carries a maximum sentence of not more than 25 years if convicted. This is charged when a defendant murders someone but did not have the intent to kill them.

Third-degree murder charges are applied to anyone who “causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evening a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” This means prosecutors do not need to prove Chauvin intended for Floyd to die, but rather that kneeling on Floyd’s neck for upwards of nine minutes showed a “depraved mind” and was “eminently dangerous.”

The second charge is “Second Degree Manslaughter – Culpable Negligence Creating Unreasonable Risk.” This charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a fine of $20,000. This manslaughter charge falls more along the lines of an individual knowingly engaging in reckless behavior that results in the death of another individual.

The final charge stacked against Chauvin is “Second Degree Murder-Unintentional-While Committing A Felony.” This charge carries a maximum sentence of not more than 40 years if convicted. This is charged when a defendant intentionally kills another individual but the murder was not premeditated. Unlike the other two charges, prosecutors must prove intent, which is notoriously difficult.

The ‘lesser offense’ rule

According to Minnesota procedural laws, even if Chauvin isn’t found guilty of the three aforementioned charges he can still face jail time. The specific law is 631.14 , which says defendants can be charged with a lesser crime.

According to section 631.14, defendants can be charged for a crime in a different degree other than what they were charged. If the jury finds the defendant not guilty of committing a crime, they can still find the defendant “guilty of an attempt to commit it.” If the jury finds the defendant not guilty of murder, they can still find the defendant guilty of manslaughter in any degree.

Technically, Chauvin could be found guilty of first-degree manslaughter since that is the lesser charge to any murder charges.

However, in order for this to occur, there needs to be a rational basis to acquit the defendant on the greater offense and convict the defendant on the lesser offense, which is up to the judge to give the instruction to do so.

The third-degree murder charge is also the lesser offense to the second-degree murder charge, while the manslaughter charge is the lesser offense to both murder charges. Even if prosecutors fail to convict Chauvin on second-degree murder charges, there are still at least three other charges he can be convicted of and sent to jail for.