Eric Nelson, the defense attorney for former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, is seeking a hearing to “impeach the verdict” after his client was found guilty in the death of George Floyd in April.
Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence for Chauvin, whose sentencing is scheduled to take place on June 25, 13 months after the ex-officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes.
In May, Nelson filed for Chauvin to receive a new trial, alleging jury misconduct and claiming the court had abused its discretion. Although the defense attorney’s request for a new trial is fairly routine, the request to investigate the jury is uncommon. Prosecutors must respond to Nelson’s requests by Wednesday.
In seeking to “impeach” the verdict, Nelson is calling into question the integrity or validity of a jury’s verdict. Under Minnesota’s Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant can request a Schwartz hearing, during which the alleged jury misconduct will be investigated. Such hearings are uncommon because judges and attorneys usually aren’t aware of factors that may indicate a juror wasn’t impartial unless they are disclosed in some way.
According to Nelson, an alternate juror who did not deliberate, made comments after the trial indicating she felt pressured to deliver a guilty verdict.
“I was worried about, whatever the verdict may be, some people felt strongly on one side, and other people felt strongly on the other side, so no matter what I felt like, somebody wasn’t going to be happy,” Lisa Christenson told CBS in April.
Nelson has also taken issue with the conduct of Brandon Mitchell, a juror who did deliberate. Mitchell spoke to several outlets after the trial, indicating that he hadn’t felt pressure to reach a guilty verdict, but an image surfaced after his series on interviews, that showed he had attended an Aug. 28 march in Washington, D.C., to honor Martin Luther King Jr. In the picture, Mitchell wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt with a picture of Dr. King that read “Get your knee off our necks.”
According to Nelson, Mitchell didn’t follow juror instructions because he was dishonest by failing to mention that he’d taken part in the march. Mitchell did note during the jury selection process that he supports the concept of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In May court filings requesting a new trial, Chauvin’s defense claimed the aforementioned alleged jury misconduct, among other factors, caused Chauvin to be deprived of a fair trial.
Nelson said the jury should have been sequestered for the entire trial, not just during deliberations, and that the venue should have been changed because of pretrial publicity. He also said the jury received improper instructions on unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and authorized use of force with respect to the law. He accused the prosecution of “disparaging the Defense; improper vouching; and failing to adequately prepare its witnesses,” and claimed the state was allowed to present cumulative evidence on use of force
Legal experts say it’s unlikely there is enough evidence to contest the fairness of the trial to overturn Chauvin’s conviction.