In First Trial in George Floyd’s Death, Lawyers Face Jury-Selection Challenge

The murder trial of the former officer charged in the death of

George Floyd

is expected to open Monday with a major challenge: finding 12 jurors in greater Minneapolis who haven’t already made up their minds about the case.

The widely seen video of a handcuffed and prone Mr. Floyd begging for his life as

Derek Chauvin,

then a Minneapolis police officer,

holds him down with a knee on his neck unleashed a summer of protest and racial reckoning across the country. Minneapolis was particularly hard hit by protests, looting and the destruction of a police precinct.

If finding acceptable jurors becomes especially difficult, that could renew efforts by Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers to seek a change of venue from Minneapolis, said

Richard Frase,

a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. Jury selection is expected to take two weeks, a significant period of time for a process that usually takes less than a day in lower-profile cases.

“It’s going to be hard,” Prof. Frase said.


Is it possible to assemble an impartial jury to judge a case of this magnitude? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.

Still, he noted, more than half of the residents of Hennepin County live outside Minneapolis, some on farms and other less-populated areas. “So you could get some people who say they don’t pay much attention to what happens in Minneapolis,” he said.

The two sides have already asked prospective jurors to answer a 14-page set of questions that lays out the contours of their task. Questions include: Describe everything you have heard about the case. How do you get your news? How do you feel about Black Lives Matter? How do you feel about Blue Lives Matter? And can you apply the principle of innocent until proven guilty?

“The question is, whatever you’ve heard about this case, and whatever you’ve thought about it—can you put that aside and base your decision only on the evidence that you hear as a juror?” said

Ron Wright,

associate dean for research and academic programs at Wake Forest University’s law school. “And saying the magic words, ‘Yes, I can do that,’ won’t be enough. They’re going to talk to the jurors, and they’re going to try to get what they believe is a real answer to that question.”

Mr. Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder—unintentional, while committing a felony—and second-degree manslaughter. Three other former officers have been charged with abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and are expected to face trial in August. Lawyers for all four have made filings indicating they aren’t guilty.

The George Floyd memorial site in Minneapolis last month.


Jenn Ackerman for The Wall Street Journal

On Friday, a state appellate court said the judge must also reconsider his decision about whether to reinstate a third-degree murder charge. That could be a cause to delay but, so far, no motions have been filed to do so.

The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled Mr. Floyd’s May 25 death a homicide, and listed the cause as cardiopulmonary arrest along with “law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” The county autopsy also indicated Mr. Floyd suffered from heart disease and had drugs in his system.

The defense has argued that the drugs and heart disease caused Mr. Floyd’s death, noting that the medical examiner found no evidence of injury to his neck and back.


Peter Cahill

has issued a series of orders to protect the jury’s anonymity, including identifying them by number, removing any identifying material from the questionnaire and shepherding them into the courtroom out of public view.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will each be able to eliminate prospective jurors for almost any reason, with what is known as a peremptory challenge. The defense will get 15 peremptory challenges, and the prosecution has nine, according to court filings.

The other side can object if they think the real basis for the challenge is race, which has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Both sides can also ask the judge to strike jurors “for cause” if, for instance, they seem too biased to render an impartial verdict.

Eventually, the two sides will settle on 12 jurors and four alternates before arguments in the trial get under way March 29. The trial itself is expected to take two to four weeks.

Melissa Mordell Gomez,

a jury consultant and author of the book “Jury Trials Outside In,” said one challenge for the lawyers might be sussing out prospective jurors with strong opinions who try to appear more open-minded than they are, a dynamic that has appeared in some other high-profile cases.

“This might be one of those cases where you have people who feel strongly on either side who are intentionally going to walk that line to try to stay on,” she said.

Footage from body cameras worn by Minneapolis police officers during their Memorial Day encounter with George Floyd revealed new details of the incident, which escalated quickly and resulted in the killing of Mr. Floyd. Photo: Minneapolis Police Department

Write to Joe Barrett at

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Source: WSJ – US News

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