I had not planned to watch much of the trial of Derek Chauvin (accused of murdering George Floyd in May of 2020). Yet I watched a section yesterday of the prosecution questioning the police chief and training officers, so I tuned in today to listen to the defense questioning some of those same people. I’m glad I did.
I suspect we will all have an opinion (most of us already do), so it doesn’t hurt to listen to the rather tedious presentation of evidence and questions by the prosecution and defense. Otherwise, what’s the basis of our opinions? The video, some newspaper articles, opinion pieces published here and there, our current biases. Once the jury renders a verdict, our reaction to it will not be based on all the evidence that was presented to the jury. If you’re not nervous about how that verdict will be received, you’re an ostrich.
Can you imagine anyone you know saying, “Well, I wasn’t in the courtroom. I didn’t hear all the evidence and the arguments of both sides, so I can’t comment on the verdict.” Rather, I’m guessing most will feel free to comment on why we agree or disagree with the verdict based on whether the verdict conforms to our current opinion about Chauvin’s actions. Even if we were to watch the entire trial, we wouldn’t be present for jury deliberations, the point at which jurors can question and challenge each other’s opinions and recollections and review evidence again.
I’ve only been a juror in two municipal court trials. Since then, I’ve been grateful that my fate has never been in the hands of a jury. The process was not reassuring to me. Jury trials are lauded in civics classes as a key element of American justice, yet we all know that trials are a tricky business. In this trial, the prosecution wants to convey that Chauvin’s actions were out of line with clear policies of the department. The defense will want to show that Chauvin was not a rogue cop, but was acting in line with common practices. In fact, both of these could be true, so what’s a jury to do.
I suspect Chauvin will be convicted on at least one of the charges, but I could be wrong. Many cops have been acquitted in the past for a variety of reasons. If the jury does convict Chauvin, will the streets be quiet? I wonder.