Heavy burden for jurors in case of George Floyd's death

An emerging question is whether Chauvinwho is charged with murder and manslaughter can get a fair trial with so much pressure on the jury and some may fear the consequences for the city and country if they come to a verdict that others reject.

A tall fence installed around the courthouse for the trial is a daily reminder for the jury from Security concerns. On some days, protesters gathered right behind it and held signs saying “Convict Derek Chauvin” and “The World Is Watching”.

Jurors understand that Floyd’s death sparked months of protests in Minneapolis and in cities across the country. They are also aware that thieves used demonstrations to break into, search and sometimes burn stores.

A judge denied a motion to change jurisdiction, a ruling Chauvin could quote if convicted on appeal. Appeals with disputes over relocation are in essence rare but not unprecedented.

In 1999, a US appeals court overturned the conviction of white Detroit police officer Larry Nevers for the beating death of a black motorist, although the evidence against him appeared strong. The court found that at least one juror heard that the National Guard was on standby if Nevers was acquitted and violence broke out.

“The court can think of no more adverse influence than that of a jury who discovers that the city he or she lives in is preparing for a riot,” it said. Adding the conviction would send the wrong message that the rights of an impartial jury “are not extended to an obviously guilty defendant”.

Similarly, a Florida appeals court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial of a civilian clad Hispanic officer, William Lozano, who fatally shot and killed black motorcyclist Clement Lloyd in 1989 when Lloyd tried to evade a patrol car that tried to stop him for a traffic violation. A passenger on the motorcycle, Allan Blanchard, who was also black, died in the accident. Protests broke out in Miami.

During the 1991 Miami trial, the jury found Lozano guilty of manslaughter. The appeal ruling months later, overturning the conviction, highlighted, as some jurors admitted, that they feared an acquittal would renew the protests.

“We just cannot agree,” said the court, “the result of a trial that was conducted in an atmosphere where the entire community – including the jury – was so obviously (and rightly) concerned with the dangers facing you Acquittal would follow. “

Lozano was acquitted on his retrial in 1993 in Orlando, more than 200 miles from Miami.

Numerous people expressed concern that they were on the panel during the jury’s selection for Chauvin’s trial, which lasted more than two weeks. At least one who had tears in their eyes was excused, as were others who were visibly upset.

Others showed no such concern. A black man in his thirties who was eventually accepted into the jury wrote on a questionnaire that the chauvinist trial was the biggest case of his life. And he added, “I would love to be a part of it.”

Other police trials, in which race may have been involved, tested the ability of the courts to reach fair judgments under heavy public pressure.

The 2018 trial of white Chicago policeman Jason Van Dyke in the fatal shooting of black teen Laquan McDonald was not relocated from Chicago and ended in convictions for second degree murder and heavy battery.

The 1992 Los Angeles trial of officials charged with brutally flogging black driver Rodney King produced a far more controversial outcome. After months of political disputes, it was relocated to the suburbs, where an almost exclusively white jury acquitted the officials and sparked riots in Los Angeles.

Critics said the change of venue did not resolve issues of impartiality and only resulted in a jury that was partial to officials. This deepened the cynicism of some that justice can ever be fair when the victims are black.

All chauvin juries were asked before the impanelation if they could leave outside influences aside and decide the case only on the basis of the evidence presented in court. They all assured the court that they could.

Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury advisor, said he believed the chauvin judges would become increasingly calm as the process progressed and would be able to block out the hubbub.

“The norm is for jurors to take these things very seriously,” he said.

If the chauvin jury had been faced with an either-or decision on a single murder charge, it would have put pressure on the jury even more, said Steve Greenberg, a senior Chicago criminal defense attorney who has heard over 50 homicide cases. He said a relief valve for them is in consideration that they can choose to convict on lesser but still more serious charges.

“There’s room for everyone to be comfortable making their decision at the end of the day,” he said.

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