Editor’s Note: Four former Minneapolis police officers, including Derek Chauvin, have been charged in a federal grand jury indictment for violating the constitutional rights of George Floyd during his arrest and death. The indictment claims that Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free of “unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.” Two former officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, are charged with failing to intervene.
Is this new indictment politically motivated? And is it more for political theatre rather than an attempt at real justice? Liberty Nation’s Managing Editor, Mark Angelides, and Legal Affairs Editor, Scott D. Cosenza Esq., tackle these questions.
Mark Angelides: Scott, this is a federal grand jury indictment. Does that mean that President Joe Biden had to have a hand in it going forward? And if so, what, in your personal opinion, could be the motivation?
Scott D. Cosenza: Federal grand jury indictments are sought by Biden’s appointed U.S. Attorneys and their Assistants. This is no ordinary Medicare fraud case, however. President Biden certainly would have consented with the decision to prosecute if he didn’t initiate it. That decision is entirely political. I suspect the motivation is as simple as Mr. Biden and his team thinking there is a political upside to the prosecution and little to no downside. I also happen to agree with that assessment.
MA: Could you explain a little about how this works? Chauvin has been charged with both murder and manslaughter already, and now he and the other former officers are facing charges of violating Mr. Floyd’s rights. Is charging Derek Chauvin here really just a way of getting the others up before a jury?
SC: The other accused former police officers will be before a state court jury this summer to face criminal charges. These additional criminal charges just seem to pile on and will give prosecution credit to the federal government. Currently, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is fielding all the progressive hosannas – Biden and Harris want some of that shine on them.
MA: A more cynical mind might suggest that this indictment is a way of ensuring that Mr. Chauvin receives a punishment if he happens to get and win the retrial his lawyers are petitioning for. Your thoughts on this?
SC: If Chauvin got off state charges, the political benefits to federal prosecution would increase astronomically. We know Biden directed federal agents to arrest Chauvin at the courthouse if he were acquitted of murdering George Floyd.
MA: As a layman, I find it hard to figure out why these charges are coming in separately from a federal grand jury. If Mr. Chauvin and the other then-officers violated Mr. Floyd’s rights, why were these charges not brought by the state? I know that Double Jeopardy doesn’t apply when one set of charges is state-level and the other is federal, but doesn’t this seem like political persecution in some sense?
SC: Persecution might be a bit of a reach. However, federal civil rights charges were invented to prosecute police officers and other officials who could never be expected to face justice at the state and local level. They were never intended to pile on the already convicted. We saw this with the Rodney King beating, for instance.
MA: How is this consistent with the protection against double jeopardy?
SC: It is not, in my opinion. The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that our principles of federalism mean the state and federal governments are dual sovereigns. For the majority, as long as a different sovereign undertakes the prosecution, it is consistent with the Fifth Amendment.