Granting a witness immunity from prosecution to testify against another is a mainstay of the U.S. criminal justice system. An everyday occurrence, especially when the prosecutors want to get that evidence presented in court. When the government wants to suppress such testimony, well, that’s an altogether different story. That’s what we have now in Minnesota at the George Floyd trial. The monumental power imbalance between the government and defense was in full display on the morning of April 6 over this issue. Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the case of Floyd’s death, and his defense team, want Floyd’s friend Morries Hall to testify, and prosecutors are conspiring to keep him out of court.
In defense of Chauvin, his lawyer, Eric Nelson, wishes to call the man who was sitting next to Floyd when police first arrived at the store Floyd defrauded. Hall was with his friend when Floyd went in and passed the fake $20 to the clerk at Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. We know Floyd was high and that various drugs were found in multiple searches of the vehicle he shared with Hall. That’s the reason Hall can’t testify: It may incriminate him for murder.
I Plead the Fifth!
Before the jury trial resumed on Tuesday morning, Judge Peter Cahill held a hearing to decide whether Hall would testify. Hall’s attorney presented a motion to quash a subpoena ordering him to do so, arguing that testifying in any capacity about the events on the day Floyd died would incriminate her client. While other charges, such as drug possession or fraud, might be lodged against Hall, his lawyers focused on the possibility of murder charges.
Hall has been offered zero immunity from the prosecution, something only government prosecutors have the power to issue. Hall’s lawyer said that if he testified to what he saw and did before and after police officers arrived at Cup Foods, he would open himself to third-degree murder charges. Just because the government is prosecuting Chauvin for murdering Floyd now, that presents no barriers to future prosecution of Hall. If the government fails to meet its burden in the current trial, it could start a prosecution against Hall the next day.
Murder Was the Case
Prosecutors could even bring charges that are in direct contravention to what they say against Chauvin. It’s the drug connection that makes this a potential murder charge. Almost certainly, were Hall to testify truthfully, he would recount illegal drug use with Floyd that day. Minnesota makes it relatively easy to prosecute those who provide drugs to overdose victims. Hall is rightfully concerned that if he says he was with Floyd and shared illegal drugs with him, then he may admit to murder under the law.
According to the state’s law:
“609.195 MURDER IN THE THIRD DEGREE.
“(b) Whoever, without intent to cause death, proximately causes the death of a human being by, directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing, or administering a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $40,000, or both.”
“That statute is broad, judge. And it has been interpreted broadly by Minnesota courts,” Hall’s lawyer argued. “Again, it’s not just that A and B situation. In fact anyone who can be pointed to as a link in the chain of distribution; someone who prepares drugs for someone else, someone who acts as a go between, can be implicated in third-degree murder.” Prosecutors wanted to keep Hall off the stand entirely, but Judge Cahill is set to allow a very narrow band of testimony. He will force Hall to testify to observations he made of Floyd, but only what he saw and heard.
Pre-Approved Examinations Only
That testimony will be carefully coordinated to keep out everything else. Judge Cahill ordered the defense to submit its proposed questions to Hall, and the answers it expects to elicit, to the court, the prosecution, and Hall’s counsel, by Thursday, April 8. Then the court will have a hearing, outside the jury’s presence, ruling on each question presented and whether Hall might refuse to answer on Fifth Amendment grounds. The prosecution will then present the cross-examination questions they are likely to ask, and the judge will rule on each of those. The tedious process will likely result in a very brief appearance of Hall, discussing Floyd nodding off. That Floyd did so after ingesting fentanyl will not be discussed before the jury.
Why doesn’t Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison simply grant Hall immunity? Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank had the temerity to suggest in court that the prosecution wanted to ensure Chauvin has a fair trial. That means they want to make sure if Chauvin is convicted, he is not set free by the appellate courts. Ellison’s office did not return a call for comment from LibertyNation as to why it didn’t grant Hall immunity from prosecution.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.
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