Jury deliberations in the Chauvin trial: Key questions, answered
Updated: April 21, 7:50 a.m. | Posted: April 17, 3:06 p.m.
Editor’s note: The jury has found Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s killing. You can find updates here. Our original story about how jury deliberations work is below.
The murder case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the killing of George Floyd while in police custody last year, is now in the hands of the jury.
The panel of 12 began deliberations Monday afternoon after a full day of closing arguments. On Thursday, the defense and the state finished presenting evidence, without any testimony from Chauvin. The former officer invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to take the stand.
Bystander video of the police encounter with Floyd showed Chauvin, who is white, with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes as the Black man lay handcuffed and facedown on the pavement in police custody, pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was arrested after allegedly trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
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Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Here’s what you need to know as the jury deliberates. Click on a link to jump to a section.
- What happened during closing arguments?
- What happened after the closing arguments were presented?
- What are the charges?
- Why didn’t Chauvin testify?
- How will Chauvin’s decision not to testify affect jurors?
- How long will jury deliberations take?
- Will the jury be sequestered?
- How are jurors compensated?
- Is the jury aware of the fatal Daunte Wright police shooting and ensuing protests?
- Why weren't jurors sequestered before deliberations?
- What happens if the jury can’t reach a unanimous decision?
- Once there’s a verdict, how soon will it be announced?
- How much time would Chauvin serve if he was convicted?
- How are Minneapolis officials, Gov. Tim Walz and community activists preparing for the verdict?
What happened during closing arguments?
Prosecutors painted the ex-officer as a cop who disregarded his training, his department’s use-of-force rules and Floyd’s suffering as the man lay handcuffed and pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee.
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide in his report last June. “What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Eric Nelson worked to sow reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds as he recounted — over nearly three hours — Chauvin’s actions and Floyd’s health and the drugs in his system.
“The standard is not what should the officer have done in these circumstances. It’s not what could the officer have done differently under these circumstances. The standard is what were the facts that were known to this officer at the precise moment he used force … and what would a reasonable police officer have done,” Nelson told jurors.
Nelson argued that bystanders watching Floyd’s arrest and restraint were a concern for Chauvin.
The prosecution then got a chance to push back against many of Nelson’s points.
What happened after the closing arguments were presented?
Before and after the closing arguments, Judge Peter Cahill presented the jury with instructions. These are crucial to deliberations, as it guides jurors on how they should consider the charges against Chauvin, said Mitchell Hamline School of Law adjunct professor Angela Porter.
“The jury instructions aren't simply the third-degree murder statute,” she said. “It’s third-degree murder broken down into each of its elements — in the words of courts who have explained and elaborated what each of those elements mean.”
Porter said jury instructions are also important because if Chauvin is convicted, he may appeal based on what he thinks were faulty jury instructions, or essentially that he disagrees with how the judge interpreted the relevant statutes.
What are the charges?
Chauvin is facing three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The second-degree murder charge requires prosecutors to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while inflicting “substantial bodily harm.”
To convict Chauvin of third-degree murder, jurors must be convinced that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by committing an act “eminently dangerous to others" and "without regard for human life."
The second-degree manslaughter charge requires the state to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence.
The state does not have to prove that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd for the jury to convict him of any of the three charges.
Jurors will also need to determine if Chauvin’s actions were “objectively reasonable” for an officer facing the same set of circumstances. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin's use of force was not authorized by law.
Why didn’t Chauvin testify?
If Chauvin had decided to take the stand, it could have helped present him in a more human light, perhaps by him expressing remorse. Much of what jurors have seen of Chauvin is a man sitting quietly behind a mask in the courtroom — or video footage of him kneeling on Floyd.
“We have not seen any emotion from him,” said Mary Moriarty, former chief public defender for Hennepin County. “And he may not be capable of that, or wanted to do that.”
Chauvin would have faced considerable risks had he chosen to testify. Under cross-examination, prosecutors would have pressed Chauvin to know what was going through his mind during those 9 1/2 minutes that he knelt on Floyd. They also would have walked him, and jurors, through damaging video evidence and interrogated him about police training and policies.
All this would have happened under the scrutiny of cameras and a livestream.
“This is being beamed all around the world,” Moriarty said. “He just maybe wasn't up for that.”
In the end, Chauvin told the judge it was his choice to invoke his Fifth Amendment right.
How will Chauvin’s decision not to testify affect jurors?
Chauvin had a constitutional right to remain silent. Cahill will read instructions to the jury making that clear:
“The state must convince you by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. The defendant has no obligation to prove innocence. The defendant has the right not to testify. This right is guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. You should not draw any inference from the fact that the defendant has not testified in this case.”
But legal experts say jurors probably wanted to hear from Chauvin.
“The typical thinking is, if he was innocent, he'd come and tell us that,” said Mark Olser, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.
How long will jury deliberations take?
It could be anywhere from several hours, to days or even weeks. As the judge said in his parting comments to jurors before closing arguments began: “It’s up to the jury how long you deliberate, how long you need to come to a unanimous decision on any count.”
In 2017, jurors deliberated for five days before finding St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty on all charges — second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm — in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Jurors previously told the judge they had deadlocked.
In 2019, jurors in former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor’s murder trial reached a verdict after about 11 hours of deliberations. He was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk.
Last year, jurors in Stillwater deliberated for about seven hours before acquitting Washington County Deputy Brian Krook of manslaughter for shooting Benjamin Evans, 23, an off-duty EMT who had threatened suicide during a 2018 standoff in Lake Elmo.
Besides Chauvin, Noor, Yanez and Krook are the only Minnesota law enforcement officers to have been tried for an on-duty death. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput has charged former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, 48, with manslaughter in the April 11 shooting death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man.
Will the jury be sequestered? How will that work?
Yes. The jurors are isolated in a hotel while they work toward a verdict. The judge is allowing the jury to view the trial exhibits, including video footage, through a laptop computer and a large monitor, rather than having them return to the courtroom. The jurors will be able to submit questions to the judge by Zoom.
Porter said the desire of sequestered jurors to return home to their lives and families can sometimes be a motivating factor in their speed.
How are jurors compensated?
Jurors are paid $20 per day. They can also submit a request for child care reimbursement, but there are restrictions. For example, jurors who currently have day care for their children can only be reimbursed if they have to pay more than what they normally do — and they would only be reimbursed for that extra amount.
To what extent is the jury aware of the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center and the ensuing protests and clashes with law enforcement?
Jurors probably know something about it. They have been told to avoid the news, but the fallout from the Wright killing — including nights of tear gas, curfews and instances of looting — has again thrust Minnesota into the national spotlight. News of the curfews also went out on cellphone alerts.
At least one juror lives in Brooklyn Center, while others have “connection” to the Minneapolis suburb, according to Chauvin’s attorney. He made an unsuccessful request for the jury to be sequestered before testimony ended.
Given the high-profile nature of the Chauvin trial, why weren’t jurors sequestered before deliberations?
“One big consideration is trying to treat the jurors humanely,” Osler said. “These are people that have been put in an incredibly stressful position, and they’re getting paid $20 a day. On top of that, to say, ‘Oh, and we're going to keep you away from your families and your home for longer than absolutely necessary,’ it's just too much.”
On April 12, the defense called for the jury to be sequestered due to the Wright shooting. Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, said he feared jurors hearing about the clashes between police and protesters would be less inclined to acquit his client.
The judge rejected the idea, noting that the two were separate cases, but said he understood the shooting could heighten jurors’ anxiety. Cahill said sequestering them before the trial wrapped up could make that worse.
During the three weeks of testimony, though, Cahill has urged jurors not to talk to anyone about the case or watch the news. On one occasion, he brought in a juror for questioning about potential outside contact. She told Cahill she had received a text from her mother related to the case but that she hadn’t spoken to anyone about the trial, according to reporters in the courtroom.
What happens if the jury can’t reach a unanimous decision?
Typically, if a jury is deadlocked, the judge will urge the jurors to bear down and continue their deliberations.
If a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict after extended deliberation, it's up to the judge’s discretion to declare a hung jury.
Once there’s a verdict, how soon will it be announced?
It won’t be immediate. Once jurors reach a verdict, expect between one to two hours before it is read in court.
How much time would Chauvin serve if he was convicted?
State sentencing guidelines recommend 12.5 years in prison on the second- and third-degree murder charges for someone who has no criminal history. The presumptive sentence for someone convicted of second-degree manslaughter is four years.
If jurors find Chauvin guilty, their job won't be finished. That's because prosecutors are seeking an enhanced sentence, and that requires jurors to decide if any aggravating factors apply. The judge has discretion to sentence Chauvin to less or more prison time than what the guidelines call for.
How are Minneapolis officials, Gov. Tim Walz and community activists preparing for the verdict?
Authorities have installed concrete barriers and fencing around key buildings in downtown Minneapolis, including Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center.
As part of a coordinated effort between local and state agencies, dubbed Operation Safety Net, National Guard troops have been stationed throughout the city. The state has also requested police assistance from other states. So far, Ohio and Nebraska have been identified as states sending law enforcement to Minnesota.
In a press conference on Monday with the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Gov. Tim Walz said that he wants people to exercise their right to protest, but also vowed to prevent businesses from being destroyed as they were during civil unrest following Floyd's killing last summer. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said they didn't plan to issue preemptive curfews in their cities in the days leading up to the verdict.
Meanwhile, the state Senate prepared to speed though an emergency $9 million spending plan to pay for extra assistance and costs incurred already dealing with recent bouts of civil tensions.
And Minneapolis Public Schools has announced that students in all grades who have shifted to in-person schooling will return to distance learning Wednesday through Friday.
MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.
Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.
What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors reviewing the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.
Chauvin's lawyer is outnumbered, but has help: A handful of attorneys appeared for the prosecution, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.
Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role: Viewers may have been struck by the array of prosecutors who took turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what was no accident.
MPR News on its coverage: Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.
George Floyd and his legacy
Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say George Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.
Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of George Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.
Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.
Calls for change: Here’s what some activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.
Lawmakers tussle over public safety practices as verdict nears: Pressure will be on state leaders as they decide how to respond to both the short-term ramifications and the broader calls for change.
Feds weighing how to respond after verdict: The Biden administration is privately weighing how to handle the upcoming verdict, including considering whether President Joe Biden should address the nation and dispatching specially trained community facilitators from the Justice Department, aides and officials said. (The Associated Press)
What the Chauvin trial feels like for the neighbors keeping vigil in George Floyd Square: People in the community talk about Black liberation, “vulturistic” visitors and why there’s not a TV showing the trial. (Sahan Journal)
How the Spokesman-Recorder is covering the Chauvin trial from the Black perspective: '[Other media are] looking at it as news, and we're looking at it as like, we deal with this daily.” (NPR)
Racism is making us sick. How can equity in medicine help us heal? Two doctors and a medical researcher talk about how racism affects their patients’ health — and how racism in medicine leads to inadequate medical education and poor care. (Sahan Journal)
NPR’s live blog: The latest from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.