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Webinar examines the Derek Chauvin trial verdict

Two weeks ago, the nation waited with bated breath for the jurors of the Derek Chauvin trial to reach a verdict. The prosecution and defense teams gave their closing arguments on Monday, April 19, and the jury reached a verdict on Tuesday, April 20.

Former police officer Derek Chauvin faced three different charges during the trial: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Judge Peter Cahill read the jury’s verdict around 4 p.m. CST on April 20. The jury found Chauvin guilty on all three counts.

On Friday, April 23, Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón Gautier hosted a live discussion with Minnesota-based criminal defense attorney Barry Cattadoris to discuss the historic trial.

During the webinar, Cattadoris first mentioned that he and many other attorneys were surprised by the swiftness of the trial. The jury deliberated for about 10 hours in total before reaching a unanimous guilty charge for all three counts against Chauvin. Jury deliberation varies from case to case, some anticipated that it would last for weeks while others hoped for a decision in a few days. Cattadoris hypothesized that the defense’s short case and lack of witnesses did not help them in the trial.

“There’s a surprise that the defense called so few witnesses,” Cattadoris said. “Had Mr. Chauvin testified, it probably would have been a whole day of testimony.”

Pabón Gautier asked about the possibility of the defense appealing the guilty verdict due to their claims of improper conduct and intimidation of jurors. Cattadoris claimed that there is a low possibility that Chauvin’s legal defense team will attempt to appeal the verdict.

“I think a couple of the hot issues that arose during the trial were the new police homicide in Brooklyn Center and whether or not that impacted the jury too much. And then there were a lot of objections about the prosecutor making improper arguments,” Cattadoris said. “I don’t think there’s much merit to any issues there. Just because there’s prosecutorial misconduct doesn’t mean you will get a new trial.”

Pabón Gautier and Cattadoris also discussed the jury’s deliberation process. According to Cattadoris, the jury can replay audio and video used during the trial in the public courtroom, but they must rely on their own notes and memories in the private deliberation. There were no reports that the jurors requested replays of any audio or video used during the trial, which speaks to the impact of the evidence.

“It must have really stuck with them in their mind when they watched it in the courtroom,” Cattadoris said.

The actual sentencing of Chauvin is much more complicated than a simple guilty verdict. Under Minnesota law, if a crime can be charged three different ways, the culprit of the crime will usually only face the sentence for the most serious charge. In Chauvin’s case, that would be the second-degree unintentional murder charge.

Minnesota sentencing guidelines also take into account the accused party’s criminal past. Additional factors such as family history, chemical dependency, education and mental health can also affect sentencing. There is then a range of days, months or years to which a judge can sentence the accused.

There is a possibility that Chauvin will receive a suspended prison sentence, in which he would be placed on probation. If he were to break that probation, he would then serve prison time.

The state can ask for an extended sentence if it proves beyond reasonable doubt that aggravating factors contributed to the crime. However, it cannot go beyond the statutory maximum sentence for second-degree murder of 40 years, and there are sentencing limits based on Chauvin’s lack of documented criminal history.

   “If Judge Cahill finds aggravating factors, the most he could do is 360 months under the case law,” Cattadoris said. “I think most likely you’re looking at a 200 to 270 month range.”

  According to Cattadoris, Chauvin will serve his prison sentence at Oak Park Heights prison. Oak Park Heights is a maximum security prison usually reserved for inmates with life sentences or other disciplinary issues. Chauvin is classified as a high-profile offender. He may be placed in segregation, separated from other inmates.

   Pabón Gautier emphasized the lack of emotion Chauvin displayed during the trial and asked Cattadoris to explain his thoughts on Chauvin’s body language and excessive note-taking.

   “Officer Chauvin was taking a lot of notes. A lot of people attributed that to a sign of him being nervous, or that he couldn’t emotionally connect with the witnesses,” Cattadoris said. “At the very end, he scribbled his attorney’s phone number on his hand which to me is a sign that he didn’t think he was going to be convicted or go into custody that day.”

    The discussion then turned back to Chauvin’s decision not to testify. Cattadoris cited civilian and witness Darnella Frazier’s video of the incident as a key piece of evidence that kept Chauvin quiet during the trial.

   “I’ve seen it be called the Civil Rights Documentary of a generation. I think if that video didn’t exist, he would have testified,”Cattadoris said.

   The webinar closed out with discussion about the impact of the trial. Many were left wondering if the case of Derek Chauvin will set a precedent for future cases of police violence. Cattadoris spoke to this possibility.

   “Police need to be held accountable too, and I think that helps jurors feel better about their decision,” Cattadoris said. “We’ve historically had some of the worst racial disparities in general in all aspects of life in Minnesota. This, I think, will really be the driving force for the Federal Department of Justice to look at past cases that have been closed out.”

   The other officers involved are currently being charged with aiding and abetting in George Floyd’s murder. The state would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that former officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Keung intended to aid Chauvin in committing the crime. They will go on trial in August.

   The full webinar discussion between María Pabón Gautier and Barry Cattadoris can be viewed on the St. Olaf College events archives page.

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