Derek Chauvin likely will appeal his conviction, but legal experts don’t think he’ll have success.
His lawyers will make arguments they already previewed in their motions at trial, experts predict.
For a successful appeal, experts say Chauvin’s lawyers have to prove the jury was compromised.
Derek Chauvin’s murder trial offered a preview of the arguments his defense attorneys are likely to make in an appeal, but legal experts say they’re unlikely to overturn the fired Minneapolis officer’s murder conviction.
“There is no question that Chauvin will appeal,” Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Insider. “He has every statutory right to and his lawyer would be sort of wrong not to, as a matter of defense ethics and things of that nature. But from what I saw in the trial, I don’t see anything there.”
Mike Lawlor, associate professor at the University of New Haven and a nationally recognized expert on criminal justice reform, believes Chauvin’s conviction will stick unless something unlikely happens, like a juror coming forward in an interview and expressing bias.
“If you had one of the jurors give an interview now that says, ‘Look, I had my doubts, but I was afraid what would happen to me if I voted not guilty?'” Lawlor said. “I mean, if you’ve got that, you may not even need an appeal to get a mistrial.”
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, had made motions before the trial kicked off to move it out of Minneapolis and to sequester the jury because of the high-profile, controversial nature of the case. Nelson asked the judge to move or delay Chauvin’s trial after the attorney for Floyd’s family announced a $27 million settlement with the city in the middle of jury selection.
Judge Peter Cahill denied that request, and Minneapolis continued to see anti-police brutality protests throughout the trial.
Lawlor told Insider he agrees with the judge’s refusal to move the proceedings out of the city.
“Where in the country would the mood be different than it was in Minneapolis to have such a trial, right? I mean, where?” said Lawlor. “Second, people had a lot of things to say, right up and down the line, but you would actually need evidence that it actually did affect the jury’s decision.”
Rep. Maxine Waters’ comments won’t likely have an effect
Local racial justice protests were fueled further when police shot and killed a 20-year-old black man in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in the third week of the trial.
During a protest in the nearby city two days before closing arguments, a reporter asked US Rep. Maxine Waters what protesters should do if Chauvin was found not guilty.
“Well, we gotta stay on the street,” Waters said. “And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Her comments sparked outrage from Republican officials and prompted Nelson to move for a mistrial, noting the jurors couldn’t have found Chauvin not guilty without fearing for their safety and the safety of their hometowns.
Cahill denied the motion, noting jurors were instructed to avoid the news. But the judge called it “abhorrent” that officials continued to speak out about the case while the trial was ongoing, saying it interfered with the legal process.
“I’ll give it to you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Cahill said.
Trivedi told Insider he thought the judge’s move to deny the motion for a mistrial was “the right call.”
“How exactly Maxine Waters’ one-off comment the night before could taint a jury so irreparably that it would cause a mistrial, I just don’t think that holds water,” he said. “The judge addressed it and noted that they were partially sequestered, and noted that there wasn’t really a strong nexus between what she said and a fair trial. He was upset by it, but he denied it as a matter of law.”
Describing the ACLU as “very defendant friendly and very skeptical of prosecutorial misconduct,” Trivedi said if there was something that pointed towards an unfair trial for Chauvin, his organization would highlight it.
In his closing rebuttal argument, state prosecutor Jerry Blackwell referred to testimony from defense witnesses as “stories,” suggesting the evidence they provided wasn’t factual.
“The judge actually sustained that objection, which was helpful to Chauvin, and I think the right call,” Trivedi said. “The prosecution should make their proactive case, they should undermine the defense’s case with their own facts or undermine the credibility of the facts, but they shouldn’t take broad base swings at the evidence.”
Chauvin could seize on those comments in an appeal, but they’re unlikely to overturn the case, according to Trevidi. Cahill ultimately asked the jury not to consider that language in their deliberations.
The evidence at trial spoke for itself
As it stands, there is more than enough evidence that what Chauvin did was illegal and justified a guilty verdict, according to Lawlor, who is on the board of police commissioners in New Haven, Connecticut, and was appointed to the police officer standards and training council.
“I’ve yet to meet a police officer of any rank who wanted to defend Chauvin at all,” he said. “He clearly broke all the rules, all the training, all the policies, all the guidelines, all the common sentence, all the humanity.”
The evidence that a crime was committed was recorded on video by a bystander, and Lawlor said the question for the jury was simply, “What category do you put it in, in terms of what his state of mind was?”
The jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He will be sentenced on the second-degree murder charge and may face up to 40 years in prison if the judge finds there are aggravating factors that make it appropriate to go above and beyond state sentencing guidelines.
Chauvin’s attorney will likely wait until after the sentencing to appeal, Lawlor said, but he doubts it will go anywhere. If Chauvin were to be successful, federal prosecutors could bring civil rights charges with even harsher penalties, he said.
“Chauvin might want to quit while he’s ahead, and probably should wait until he gets some sentence,” Lawlor said. “If he gets 40 years, it’s one thing.”
“I think it’s extremely unlikely that they’re going to be successful,” he added. “The arguments they’re going to make are predictable, and they more or less already made them.”
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