George Floyd case: 3rd-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin must be reconsidered, court rules

MINNEAPOLIS — A third-degree murder charge that was filed against former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin and later dismissed due to a lack of evidence must be reconsidered, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

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The decision could delay the start of the trial against Chauvin, who faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the May 2020 death of 46-year-old George Floyd. Jury selection was expected to begin Monday, though Friday’s ruling meant the process could be delayed to allow the court to hear arguments over adding the charge.

In October 2020, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill granted part of a motion filed by Chauvin’s attorneys that sought to dismiss the charges against their client. In a 107-page order and opinion, Cahill said a charge of third-degree murder “can be sustained only in situations in which the defendant’s actions were ‘eminently dangerous to other persons’ and were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred.”

>> Related: Judge drops 3rd-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death

Prosecutors filed a motion to reinstate the charge last month after the appeals court upheld the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis police Officer Mohamed Noor, who in 2017 shot and killed 40-year-old Justine Damond while responding to a 911 call. Cahill denied the motion, writing in a memorandum that the precedent set by the Noor decision had yet to be finalized.

A three-judge panel rejected that argument Friday, saying that Cahill erred by failing to follow the precedent set by the Noor decision.

“This court’s precedential opinion in Noor became binding authority on the date it was filed,” the appeals court said in its decision. “The district court therefore erred by concluding that it was not bound by the principles of law set forth in Noor and by denying the state’s motion to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder on that basis.”

>> Related: George Floyd case: Derek Chauvin allowed to live outside Minnesota as he awaits trial

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution team, praised the appeals court’s decision in a statement obtained by the Star Tribune.

“We believe the charge of 3rd-degree murder, in addition to manslaughter and felony murder, reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin. Adding this charge is an important step forward in the path toward justice.”

Authorities arrested Chauvin after video surfaced on social media showing him pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for minutes on May 25, 2020, as Floyd pleaded for air. Police said Floyd was being detained for questioning in connection with a report of someone using a counterfeit $20 bill at a local grocery store.

>> Related: George Floyd case: Former officer Derek Chauvin released on $1 million bond

The Hennepin County medical examiner determined that Floyd’s heart stopped as he was being restrained and his death was ruled a homicide. A separate autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family also called his death a homicide but concluded that he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.

Floyd’s death prompted global outrage and sparked a national reckoning with racism and police brutality.

Three other officers also face charges in Floyd’s death. Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

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