Appeals court hears oral arguments on 3rd-degree murder charge in Chauvin case

The Minnesota Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Monday over reinstating the third-degree murder charge in the case against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin is already charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death last May. He was initially charged with third-degree murder as well, but Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the charge last October, saying it did not apply to this case. The state is hoping the appeals court will overrule that decision. 

"If you rule against us, we’ll never be able to charge third-degree murder, ever. A trial judge shouldn’t be able to do that," said Neal Katyal, a prosecutor.

The push comes after the Court of Appeals recently ruled a third-degree murder charge was appropriate in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted in a deadly 2017 shooting. 

In so doing, the court helped define some of the complicated language around the statute that had focused on the idea that a defendant was thought to have to endanger multiple lives to be charged with the crime. In the case of the Memorial Day arrest, Floyd was the only person in danger with Chauvin’s knee to the back of his neck for some nine minutes.

Noor’s attorneys are appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court and Chauvin’s team insists they have to wait until the issue is fully resolved. 

"Yes, my client would have the right to appeal if Noor is eventually overturned, but he would have to do it from the confines of a prison cell," said Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney.

The judges, including Michelle Larkin who wrote the Noor appeals opinion, had some tough questions for Nelson.

"Do you see the problem with that argument?" said Nelson.

There was not a ruling Monday, but the judges are promising an "expedited" decision for Chauvin as the clock is ticking. The Court of Appeals typically has 90 days to make a decision. Even if the appeals court makes a decision before the trial begins, lawyers could argue they will need more time to prepare and ask for the trial to be delayed. 

Jury selection in Chauvin’s trial is scheduled to begin next Monday, March 8.