The Minnesota Court of Appeals is still mulling a decision on whether to allow prosecutors to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin’s trial on the current charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd starts Monday morning. So the ruling from the state appeals court is expected to come down sometime Friday, March 5.
Prosecutors initially charged Chauvin with third-degree murder as well, but the defense asked to have the charge dropped for lack of probable cause. The judge agreed.
Third-degree murder is a complicated charge that has a legal history of only being applied in situations where the “death-causing act” is broader and not directed at a single person. However, former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted on this charge for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently upheld that charge, saying that it can indeed apply when the death-causing act is directed at an individual.
At that point, prosecutors asked the judge to reinstate the charge for Chauvin, as well. But the judge denied their request, saying that the appeals court’s ruling is not precedential yet. He said the decision will not be final until Noor decides not to appeal to the state Supreme Court within the window allotted, or the state Supreme Court either hears it or declines to review.
The state appealed the judge’s ruling in the Chauvin case, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments on Monday. Prosecutors are saying that the Court of Appeals rulings are precedential as soon as they are issued, and are only reversed if and when the state Supreme Court overrides them. The defense maintains that the decision is not precedential until it is final.
Noor has appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and the court has indicated it will hear his case in June.
On Monday, Judge Michelle Larkin questioned the defense attorney on his argument, saying that most previous opinions indicate that the district court is “bound to follow” the court of appeals rulings “until such time as the Supreme Court reverses them.”
Whichever way the court of appeals rules, the defense and the prosecution will have an opportunity to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. If that happens, it’s possible that Chauvin’s trial could be delayed.