Mar 8, 2021 - Politics

Why picking a jury for the Derek Chauvin trial is so hard

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The tough task of selecting a jury for former MPD officer Derek Chauvin's trial for the killing of George Floyd is set to begin Monday.

The state of play: "This case may be the most highly publicized criminal trial in a long time. ... That means that it's harder to find people who really have an open mind," Richard Frase, University of Minnesota Law School professor of criminal law, told Axios.

  • COVID-19 precautions, security measures and deeply-held feelings about race and policing "heighten" an already difficult process, added Roy Futterman, a clinical psychologist and trial consultant who specializes in jury selection.
  • Plus, there's the pressure that the outcome could spark more civil unrest in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. "That's a lot to place on their shoulders," Futterman said.

Another catch: Being unfamiliar with the facts of a case is usually seen as a plus. In this situation, it could be seen as disqualifying.

  • Those who claim to be in the dark "don't demonstrate the level of citizenship required for a case this serious," defense attorney A.L. Brown told The Star Tribune.

How it works: Attorneys will question prospective jurors to try to determine whether they can be fair-minded. Candidates already filled out a lengthy questionnaire probing everything from their media habits to views on police and Black Lives Matter.

  • Jurors can be dismissed "for cause," based on something they said or did that suggests an inability to render fair judgment. Each side has a limited number of "peremptory challenges," which can be used for pretty much any reason except race.

Between the lines: Juror questions can also preview both sides' eventual arguments.

  • Lawyers will often "ask questions just as much to raise an issue and prepare anyone who ends up on the jury for the issue that they want to have front of mind," Frase said.

What's next: Judge Peter Cahill has set aside three weeks — an unusually long window — to find 12 jurors and 4 alternates before opening statements begin March 29.

Of note: While the trial will be broadcast, jurors will remain off camera to protect their identities.

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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