Chauvin seeks new trial, impeachment of verdict

Two men listen to a judge during a trial
Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd last May, and defense attorney Eric Nelson listen as Judge Peter Cahill speaks during Chauvin's trial on April 19.
Screenshot of Court TV video file

Updated: 6:18 p.m.

The attorney for Derek Chauvin filed a motion Tuesday seeking a new trial for the former Minneapolis police officer, who was convicted of murder last month in the death of George Floyd.

The motion cites 10 reasons Chauvin should be granted a new trial, including judicial abuse of discretion over granting a change of venue and sequestering the jury before deliberations. It says “publicity during the proceedings threaten[ed] the fairness of the trial.” And it says prosecutors “committed pervasive, prejudicial” misconduct.

Tuesday’s motion also requests a hearing to “impeach the verdict … on grounds that the jury committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations.”

A spokesperson for the state attorney general's office says that "the court has already rejected many of these arguments and the state will vigorously oppose them."

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Though it’s not referenced directly in the motion, one possible avenue for alleging juror misconduct could be reports that have surfaced recently about a juror who attended a rally in Washington, D.C., last summer.

The juror, Brandon Mitchell, didn’t disclose his participation in the March on Washington during jury selection, which has prompted questions about whether his lack of disclosure gives Chauvin an avenue to appeal his conviction for the murder of George Floyd.

Why does something that Mitchell did last summer have a potential impact on the trial?

A picture of Mitchell and two of his cousins posted on social media shows Mitchell wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and hat. 

During the jury selection process, Mitchell had said he hadn’t attended any Black Lives Matter or anti-police brutality protests. 

Critics raised the idea that Mitchell, who is Black, had not been honest about his sentiments and should have raised them during jury selection.

A man poses for a portrait.
Brandon Mitchell, a juror in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, poses for a picture, in Minneapolis on April 28. Mitchell defends his participation in protest in Washington last summer in the wake of online speculation about his motives for serving on the jury.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP file


How has Mitchell responded?

In an interview with WCCO News Tuesday morning, Mitchell said he answered the questions truthfully. He said the Washington, D.C., march was a commemoration of the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march and his “I Have a Dream” speech — not a Black Lives Matter protest.  

"Being a part of that, and being able to attend, you know, the same location where Martin Luther King gave his speech was a historic moment," Mitchell said.

And he pointed out that he’d already said during jury selection that he supported the idea that Black lives do matter.

How could this affect the trial?

Legal experts say defense attorney Eric Nelson could ask for a new trial on the grounds of juror misconduct. That would need to go through a process called a Schwartz hearing. During the hearing, Judge Peter Cahill would ask Mitchell questions in order to determine if there was any misconduct.

Defense attorney Fred Goetz, who was not a part of the Chauvin case, said juror misconduct is a serious issue. But there’s a high bar to cross to prove it.

“Something has to have been said that was demonstrably false,” said Goetz. “And it has to make a difference.”

If Cahill refuses to grant the new trial or doesn’t find evidence of juror misconduct or bias, Nelson may raise that as grounds for appeal. 

Rachel Paulose, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas and a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said it doesn’t appear to her that Mitchell committed misconduct.

“It’s going to be the defense’s burden to show that this juror lied or that somehow the juror was not open and responsive to the voir dire,” she said. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, that’s going to be very hard to show.” 

Nelson has declined to comment on the trial and on the latest developments with Mitchell. Legal experts say Nelson will have to wait until after sentencing, which is set for June 25, before he can file an appeal.