Sunday, April 18, 2021
On Monday, there will be closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial. In this post, I will break down the three charges that Chauvin faces in connection with the death of George Floyd.
Second Degree Murder
First, Chauvin is charged with second degree murder under Minn.Stat. § 609.19, subd. 2(1).* That subsection states that
[w]hoever does either of the following is guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:
(1) causes the death of a human being, without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with force or violence or a drive-by shooting.
In this case, the State is alleging that the predicate felony under Minn.Stat. § 609.19, subd. 2(1) is third degree felony assault. Minn.Stat. § 609.223 subd. 1 (Assault in the Third Degree) states that
[w]hoever assaults another and inflicts substantial bodily harm may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
In turn, "assault" is defined in Minn.Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1, which sets forth the test for fifth degree misdemeanor assault. It states that
[w]hoever does any of the following commits an assault and is guilty of a misdemeanor:
(1) commits an act with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or
(2) intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another.
So, breaking this down, the likeliest path toward the jury finding Chauvin guilty of second degree murder is the jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt that
1. Chauvin intentionally inflicted bodily harm upon Floyd (assault); and
2. Chauvin inflicted substantial bodily harm upon Floyd (second degree assault); and
3. Chauvin caused Floyd's death while committing second degree assault (second degree murder).
Some examples of Minnesota cases involving second degree murder convictions based upon asphyxiation include (1) State v. Schroeder, 401 N.W.2d 671 (Minn.App. 1987); (2) State v. Edge, 422 N.W.2d 315 (Minn.App. 1988); and (3) State v. Larsen, 413 N.W.2d 584 (Minn.App. 1987).
Third Degree Murder
Second, Chauvin is charged with third degree murder under Minn.Stat. § 609.195(a). That subsection states that
[w]hoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.
The Supreme Court of Minnesota actually clarified what constitutes third degree murder just 2.5 weeks ago. In State v. Coleman, 2021 WL 1201738 (Minn. 2021), the court concluded that
[w]e now clarify that the adjectives we first used in Lowe to describe the act involved in a third-degree murder (“reckless, mischievous, or wanton”) did not create a mental-state element that requires a showing that the act was committed in a reckless manner. Instead, the mental-state element for third-degree depraved mind murder requires a showing that the eminently dangerous act was committed with a mental state of reckless disregard of human life. As Justice Tomljanovich observed in her concurrence in State v. Netland, the required recklessness or indifference “refer[s] to the risk of death, not to the manner in which the act that produces that result is undertaken.”
I don't need to break this down because the court in Coleman clearly stated the elements that need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for any defendant, including Chauvin, to be convicted of third degree murder:
a defendant is guilty of third-degree murder, when based on the attending circumstances: (1) he causes the death of another without intent; (2) by committing an act eminently dangerous to others, that is, an act that it is highly likely to cause death; and (3) the nature of the act supports an inference that the defendant was indifferent to the loss of life that this eminently dangerous activity could cause.
An example of a Minnesota case involving third degree murder convictions based upon asphyxiation can be found in State v. Barnes, 713 N.W.2d 325 (Minn. 2006).
Second Degree Manslaughter
Third, Chauvin is charged with second degree manslaughter under Minn.Stat. § 609.205(1). That subsection states that
A person who causes the death of another by any of the following means is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both:
(1) by the person's culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.
After articulating the definition of third degree murder in Coleman, the Supreme Court of Minnesota continued by noting that
[t]his articulation draws an important distinction between third-degree depraved mind murder and second-degree culpable negligence manslaughter. The manslaughter offense requires the State to prove that the person "'causes the death of another...by the person's culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.'" State v. Back, 775 N.W.2d 866, 869 (Minn. 2009) (quoting Minn. Stat. § 609.205 (2020)). By contrast, third-degree depraved mind murder requires an eminently dangerous act that supports an inference that the defendant was indifferent to the loss of life that the defendant's eminently dangerous activity could cause.
Some examples of Minnesota cases involving second degree manslaughter convictions bad upon asphyxiation include (1) State v. Torkelson, 404 N.W.2d 352 (Minn.App. 1987); and (2) State v. Sundblad, 2018 WL 2770381 (Minn.App. 2018).
*This is essentially murder, and Minnesota does not apply the merger doctrine.