Attorney Eric Nelson has filed a petition for a new trial for his client Derek Chauvin. The defense listed at least ten reasons requesting a new trial for the man convicted of murdering George Floyd and argued they cumulatively constituted a violation of Mr. Chauvin’s right to a fair trial in the demand filed late Tuesday afternoon. John Stiles, a spokesman for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said, “The court has already rejected many of these arguments, and the State will vigorously oppose them.”
Juror misconduct was one reason given in the defense petition, as well as claims the judge didn’t act to protect Chauvin’s rights by moving the trial out of Minneapolis, and didn’t insulate the jury from publicity about the case. Mr. Nelson said in his motion, “The Court abused its discretion when it denied Defendant’s motion for a change of venue, in violation of Mr. Chauvin’s constitutional rights to a due process and a fair trial.”
He also said the court abused its discretion when it denied Chauvin’s motion for a new trial on the grounds that the publicity surrounding it prevented Mr. Chauvin from getting a fair trial. According to Nelson, “Such publicity included post-testimony, but predeliberation, intimidation of the defense’s expert witnesses, from which the jury was not insulated.” The lawyer went on, saying, “The publicity here was so pervasive and so prejudicial before and during this trial that it amounted to a structural defect in the proceedings.”
Judge Cahill’s errors
The new motion also resurrects Mr. Chauvin’s claim that the jury should have been sequestered by Judge Peter Cahill much earlier (they were sequestered only during deliberations, which amounted to less than 24 hours). Mr. Nelson wrote:
“The Court abused its discretion when it failed to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, or in the least, admonish them to avoid all media, which resulted in jury exposure to prejudicial publicity regarding the trial during the proceedings, as well as jury intimidation and potential fear of retribution among jurors, which violated Mr. Chauvin’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.”
The defense argues that even if none of the errors it points to individually amount to cause for a new trial, the multiple errors add up to meet that burden. Mr. Nelson quotes from a 2000 Minnesota case which held “when the cumulative effect of numerous errors” – even if, alone, the errors are harmless – “constitutes the denial of a fair trial, the defendant is entitled to a new trial.”
In addition to asking for Judge Cahill to order a new trial on multiple grounds, the defense has asked for an “order for a hearing to impeach the verdict.” In 1960, the Minnesota Supreme Court established a rule for proceeding with charges if jurors lied during selection, for instance. It said:
“Cases may and do arise where a juror’s untruthful answering of questions … will prevent a litigant from having a fair trial.” And “rather than permit or encourage the promiscuous interrogation of jurors by the defeated litigant, we think that the better practice would be to bring the matter to the attention of the trial court, and, if it appears that the facts justify so doing, the trial court may then summon the juror before him and permit an examination in the presence of counsel for all interested parties and the trial judge under proper safeguards.”
Nelson wrote such a hearing should be granted “on the grounds that the jury committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations …”
If Judge Cahill grants such a hearing, we would see Mr. Brandon Mitchell (juror 52) and perhaps other jurors, questioned under oath about the various activities and opinions Mitchell has spoken about on his recent media tour to promote a podcast. The juror appeared to admit during a television interview that during deliberation the jury had violated Chauvin’s Fifth Amendment right not to act as a witness against himself, and social media content was also discovered that indicate he mislead the court on his involvement in protests during the time between Floyd’s death and the trial.
Chauvin is currently due back in court on June 25, when he is expected to be sentenced for the second-degree murder of George Floyd, the most serious crime he was convicted of on April 20.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.