Legal strategies in Derek Chauvin trial, and new voting restrictions in Georgia

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Brian Hardzinski and Angie Perrin

Opening arguments begin today in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd in summer 2020 while in police custody. Chauvin faces three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. 

Chauvin is accused of kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, which prosecutors called the most important number in this trial.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell stated, “Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd, that he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath, no ladies and gentlemen, until the very life was squeezed out of him."

Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, asked the jury to consider only the specific facts of this case: “That’s what this case is ultimately about. It’s about the evidence in this case. The evidence that you will see in this case during this trial. I agree with counsel for the state. It is nothing more than that. There is no political or social cause in this trial.”

This closely watched trial comes after the country has spent the past year grappling with systemic racism.

“These are not hard charges to prove, we have the tape no doubt. But anything less than conviction on all three [charges], but at least one, it may portend to be a problem in the city,” says Keith Mayes, a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Minnesota. “All hell might break loose if this man is acquitted.”

According to Loyola law professorJessica Levinson, prosecutors will focus on the first words used in their opening arguments: “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

“We also know that these are not typically slam dunk cases. I’m not saying what's happening here is justified, but when we look at excessive force cases throughout the country and how often you get a conviction, it's not that often,” she says.

Meanwhile, the state of Georgia last week enacted a sweeping package of voting restrictions. It would introduce new voter ID requirements, limit the use of drop boxes, allow the state to take over local elections, and ban groups from giving food and water to people waiting in line to vote. 

During his news conference on Thursday, President Biden called the new law despicable, pernicious, and un-American: “It’s sick, it’s sick: deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote, deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work, deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances.”

Mayes says the new law might not appear to be racially discriminatory on its face, but it could have longstanding consequences on communities of color.  

“Just like the Jim Crow laws, like the poll tax, the grandfather clauses, the literacy test — no mentioning of race. And so that way, it appears on the face that these laws have merit. But we know how the laws, if enacted, will affect people, particularly black people, when it comes to voter ID and other kinds of voter suppression tactics.”