Judge Peter Cahill has reinstated a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin in the May 2020 death of George Floyd.
Chauvin is currently charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and jury selection started Tuesday in the high-profile trial, which is being live-streamed across the globe.
Chauvin’s defense team had asked the judge to drop the charge for lack of probable cause, and he agreed. Then on March 5, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said that was an error, and that the charge should be reconsidered.
The defense asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review but in a Wednesday afternoon denial, the state’s high court indicated it would not take up the issue. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill heard arguments on the charge Thursday morning before ruling that the third-degree murder charge should be reinstated.
Meanwhile, five jurors have been selected and another nine need to be chosen. No matter how long jury selection takes, Judge Cahill has said opening arguments will not start until March 29.
As soon as Judge Peter Cahill entered the courtroom Thursday morning, he addressed the ongoing issue of reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin.
On Monday, March 8, the defense officially asked the Supreme Court to review the third-degree charge. But that request was denied on Wednesday, two days into jury selection.
The Supreme Court noted in their opinion that Judge Cahill can still hear arguments from the defense on Thursday morning. He heard first from the prosecution.
“It’s a very straightforward decision,” Katyal said. “You have the absolute discretion to add this charge, and we think you should.”
The judge acknowledged that the court of appeals ruled that the defense can still present arguments against adding the charge.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, presented his case Thursday morning. Nelson argued that this case is “factually and procedurally” different from the Mohamed Noor case. In that case, another former Minneapolis police officer was convicted of third-degree murder in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The court of appeals upheld that charge against Noor, and he has appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The higher court will hear that appeal in June.
RELATED: Minnesota Supreme Court to review Mohamed Noor’s third-degree murder conviction
The Noor case addresses the question of whether third-degree murder can be used in an instance where the death-causing act is directed at a single person. Historically in Minnesota, the charge has been used for a dangerous act that puts many people at risk, such as shooting into a crowd.
However, in its ruling last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals indicated that until the state Supreme Court rules on that matter, its previous ruling on third-degree murder stands: That it can be used against a single person.
Nelson argued that Noor’s shooting across his partner’s chest did in fact endanger more than one person, so that case is different from the Chauvin case. However, Cahill countered that the court of appeals specifically said in its ruling that the charge can apply when only one person is endangered.
“I’m not questioning the court of appeals this time,” Cahill said.
Nelson also argued that the case is different because a gun is “inherently dangerous” while Derek Chauvin’s knee is “not inherently dangerous.”
Katyal responded to Chauvin’s arguments. He said that while Judge Cahill is entitled to hear new arguments, he does not believe the court of appeals meant the previous issues should be re-debated.
“If there’s good cause for some new argument that hasn’t been made, OK, fine,” he said. “I don’t think anything today rises to that level.”
Katyal said he does not agree that the Noor case is different from the Chauvin case because more people were endangered in the Noor case.
“Major points for creativity” to Nelson, Katyal said, but the court of appeals decision in Noor does not take into account the idea that his partner was endangered. He read from the ruling, saying, “We therefore hold a conviction for third-degree murder … may be sustained even if the death-causing act was directed at a single person.”
The trial has already been slightly delayed over the legal back-and-forth regarding the third-degree murder charge. And there is the possibility the state may again try to appeal if the judge declines to reinstate it, which could result in further delays.
Meanwhile during jury selection Wednesday, two jurors were selected. Juror #20 is described as a younger man, and Juror #27 is a Black man in his 30s or 40s. Three jurors were questioned and struck from the list of potential candidates.
The jury selection process is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, following the 8 a.m. motions hearing.
Derek Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd in May 2020. He has pleaded not guilty.