Why was ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin charged with third-degree murder?
Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes and prosecutors want to hold the fired Minneapolis police officer accountable for Floyd’s death.
Chauvin, 44, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — two felonies where intent is a key element.
CNN has reached out to Chauvin’s attorney and the Minneapolis police union for comment.
Floyd’s family and their attorney, Benjamin Crump, are upset Chauvin wasn’t charged with a more serious offense and are calling authorities to revise the charges. So, why did prosecutors choose those charges?
Here’s what CNN analysts had to say about the possible reasoning behind the charges.
What is third-degree murder?
Most states separate murder into two degrees but Minnesota is one of a few states that allow prosecutors to consider the lesser charge of third-degree murder.
Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder is defined as causing death of a person “by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind,” without regard for life and without intent to kill.
The offense carries a sentence of no more than 25 years or a fine of no more than $40,000, or both.
Prosecutors had to prove that officer wanted to kill
Chauvin may have decided to kneel on Floyd’s neck and ignored his pleas to breathe but prosecutors may not have believed those actions meant that he had any intention to kill.
At least not at this point, said CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, a former assistant US attorney for the District of Columbia.
“You’re seeing the prosecutor’s office, I think, looking at the fact that this was a police officer,” Coates said. “What a reasonable police officer would have done, but also, whether this officer intended to get up this morning or have that interaction with Mr. George Floyd and cause his death.”
The higher murder charges in Minnesota require that a person plans and willingly carries a killing or has the intention to kill in the spur of the moment.
A person may be charged with second-degree murder in Minnesota if they cause a death without intent while committing another felony crime.
Prosecutors appear to believe Chauvin’s actions were unintentional but the law still recognize them as a crime, Coates said.
For the third-degree murder charge, prosecutors will have to prove something called depraved indifference.
“That means you disregarded the risk and did something that was so dangerous that you knew death could potentially occur,” said Joey Jackson, a CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.
Floyd died after pleading for help as Chauvin used his knee on Floyd’s neck to pin him — unarmed and handcuffed — to the ground.
Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Floyd had been unresponsive for two minutes, 53 seconds before Chauvin moved, according to the criminal complaint.
For the manslaughter charge, Jackson says, authorities would just have to demonstrate that the officer was careless or reckless that he “disregarded the risk.”
Under Minnesota law, second-degree manslaughter is described as when a person “an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”