Appeals court dismisses prosecutors’ request to postpone Chauvin trial

The ruling paves the way for the trial to begin March 8 as scheduled.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is escorted from the rear of the Hennepin County Family Justice Center by a law enforcement officer after a hearing Sept. 11, 2020, in Minneapolis.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP 2020

Updated: 1:10 p.m.

In a setback for prosecutors, a state appeals court has declined to reconsider a lower court's decision to separate the case of former officer Derek Chauvin from the three other former officers charged in George Floyd's killing and delay the trial.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill decided last month that Chauvin would be tried alone in March while the other three defendants were scheduled for a late August trial together. Prosecutors challenged that decision, arguing in the court of appeals that a March trial posed a public health threat to anticipated demonstrators and trial participants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were hoping to consolidate the trial for all four defendants and push it back to summer.

The appeals court decision Friday stated that prosecutors didn't show that the March trial date would critically affect their ability to prosecute the case.

In the opinion, Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Tracy Smith wrote, “While the state in passing suggests that its ability to prosecute the case might be adversely affected if participants in the trial contract COVID-19 during the trial and a mistrial results, in general, it asserts that the ‘critical impact’ of the district court’s orders relates not to the state’s ability to prosecute but rather to public-health risks.” 

The appeals court also ruled that prosecutors hadn’t proved that the higher court had the authority to overturn the district court's decision. The opinion does not weigh in on the merits of the district court's ruling.   

Cahill originally ruled in November that all the defendants should stand trial together, saying that the charges and evidence in the cases were similar and that separate trials would burden the state and witnesses. But he separated the cases into two trials after concern that there wouldn’t be enough room to maintain COVID-19 distancing in a joint trial.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Jury selection in his trial is set to start on March 8.

State Attorney General Keith Ellison said in an emailed statement that his office filed the appeal because they believed it was in the best interests of justice and residents of the state. 

“Seeking a continuance to protect jurors, court personnel, attorneys, and defendants from the lethal COVID-19 virus was the right thing to do and we stand by it,” Ellison said. “As we have said all along, we will be ready to start the trial whenever the court deems proper."

Former Minneapolis officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. They’re set to go on trial Aug. 23.

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