Judge allows third-degree murder charge against officer on trial in George Floyd’s death

Demonstrators take part in a Justice for George Floyd protest, in New York
Demonstrators take part in a Justice for George Floyd protest in New York City, New York, U.S. March 8, 2021.
REUTERS/David ‘Dee’ Delgado

A Minnesota judge granted a request by prosecutors on Thursday to reinstate a charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is on trial already facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

Judge Peter Cahill’s decision comes after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that he must reconsider a third-degree murder charge against 44-year-old Chauvin, whose trial got underway with jury selection this week in Minneapolis.

“I have to follow the rule that the court of appeals has put in place,” Cahill said in explaining his decision.

Chauvin already faces a more serious charge of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, as well as a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

The reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge was a victory for state prosecutors, who had sought the additional lesser murder charge in part to afford them an extra path to a conviction should the jury find the evidence does not support the most serious charge. The third-degree murder charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Chauvin’s charges stem from his actions during the arrest of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Videos show Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on a sidewalk outside a grocery store as the Black man pleaded for his life and then stopped moving. Police were arresting him on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at the store.

Floyd’s death outraged people around the world and helped fuel one of the largest protest movements ever seen in the United States, with daily demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

Lawyers for Chauvin had successfully argued the third-degree murder charge should be dropped on the basis that the statute requires the “death-causing act” not be directed at a single individual. It is often used in instances where someone uses deadly force against a crowd of people, for example.

But the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled in a separate case that third-degree murder could be applied even if the “death-causing act” is directed at a specific person, and ruled on Friday that this precedent binds the district court.

Jury selection for Chauvin’s trial was set to resume Thursday morning, with five jurors already seated.