The federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers accused of breaching George Floyd’s constitutional rights as colleague Officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to pin the Black man to the pavement is set to begin on Thursday.
Floyd’s civil rights were allegedly violated when J. Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao were working under government authority. Separately, they are accused in state court with murder and manslaughter aiding and abetting.
According to legal experts, the federal trial will be more difficult than the state trial, which is set for June 13, because prosecutors in this case must prove that the officers willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights by seizing him without cause and depriving him of his liberty without due process.
“They’re charged with what they did in the state case.” In some manner, they assisted and abetted Chauvin. They’re charged with something they didn’t do in the federal case, which is a key distinction. Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, described it as “a new type of responsibility.”
Prosecutors must demonstrate the cops should have done something to stop Chauvin, rather than proving they did something directly to Floyd, as another former federal prosecutor put it.
Potential jurors have previously completed a lengthy questionnaire. They will be taken into a federal courtroom in St. Paul on Thursday, where they will be questioned in groups by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. The procedure will be repeated until a group of 40 people has been selected. Then each side will have a chance to hit jurors with its challenges. In the end, 18 jurors will be chosen, including 12 deliberating jurors and six alternates.
Unlike the state trial for Chauvin, when the judge and counsel interrogated each jury individually and spent more than two weeks selecting a panel, Magnuson believes the process could be completed in two days.
On May 25, 2020, Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin held him to the ground for 9 1/2 minutes with his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd was facedown, shackled, and gasping for oxygen. Lane held Floyd’s knees down as Kueng knelt on his back. Bystanders were held at bay by Thao.
Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in April and is receiving a 2212-year sentence. He pled guilty to a federal count of violating Floyd’s rights in December.
Officers implicated in on-duty homicides are seldom prosecuted by the federal government. Prosecutors must meet a high legal burden to prove that a police officer knowingly violated a person’s constitutional rights; an accident, a lapse in judgment, or negligence are not enough to bring federal charges.
Prosecutors must show that the cops were aware that what they were doing was improper yet continued to do it nonetheless.
Floyd’s right to be free from an officer’s purposeful disregard to his medical requirements has been taken away from him by Kueng, Lane, and Thao. According to the accusation, the three men noticed Floyd visibly in need of medical attention but did nothing to help him.
A second count charges Thao and Kueng with wilfully violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizures by failing to stop Chauvin while he knelt on Floyd’s neck. It’s unclear why Lane isn’t named in that count, but evidence suggests he requested Floyd twice if he should be rolled on his side.
Floyd was killed as a result of the officers’ conduct, according to both charges.
Federal civil rights breaches that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or death, but such harsh punishments are uncommon, and federal sentencing guidelines rely on intricate formulae that imply the cops will receive considerably less if convicted.
“This trial will be a step forward from the Chauvin trial because we’ll be looking at the individuals that assist the killer rather than the killer himself.” And that brings us closer to the department’s culture,” Osler added.