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Chauvin's Third-Degree Murder Conviction Could Be Overturned

ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 19: A woman looks on as people march near the Minnesota State Capitol to honor George Floyd on March 19, 2021 in St Paul, Minnesota. This morning Judge Peter Cahill rejected motions for change of venue and continuance by the defense of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd last May. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on April 21, 2021 4:10 PM

With a guilty verdict on all counts, Derek Chauvin is facing a significant sentence. However, the case is not over. It is expected Chauvin will appeal, arguing for a mistrial. And one count, his conviction for third-degree murder, has a significant legal cloud surrounding it.

Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder involves the unintentional killing of another through an act that is "eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard to human life." Minnesota is one of only three states to have a third-degree murder charge. Importantly, this law includes causing another's drug-related death by selling, delivering, or administering a Schedule I or II controlled substance. In other words, the law was originally aimed, at least in part, at drug traffickers who sold to users who subsequently overdosed. It was not necessarily intended for police brutality and misconduct.

But Chauvin is not the only Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with third-degree murder. Mohamed Noor, another former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted of third-degree murder in 2017 after shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Noor's case is ongoing, and how it plays out could have a large impact on Chauvin's ultimate sentence.

Third-Degree Murder Charge Thrown Out Early On

Prosecutors originally charged Derek Chauvin with third-degree murder, along with second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter. However, Judge Peter Cahill threw out the third-degree charge because the law references danger to "others." Judge Cahill ruled that it did not apply to Chauvin, whose actions were dangerous only to George Floyd. In Judge Cahill's reading, a person's actions must be dangerous to multiple people, not just one, in order to fulfill the statutory elements of third-degree murder.

Appeals Court Ruling

In February of this year, however, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld Mohamed Noor's conviction on third-degree murder charges. Noor is appealing to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The state's highest court must now determine whether Noor's actions meet the definitions in the statute, namely whether "others" applies to a single person, and whether his actions satisfy the definition of a "depraved mind." The Minnesota Supreme Court has already agreed to take up the case, with oral arguments scheduled for June.

Third-Degree Murder Charges Reinstated

After the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling, Judge Cahill reinstated the charges. And, as we all now know, the jury convicted Chauvin on that count and all others. Still, should the state Supreme Court reverse, it is possible Chauvin's third-degree murder charge would then be thrown out.

Chauvin still has some legal options before him.

Related Resources

Could Remarks from Public Officials on Chauvin Trial Be Grounds for Appeal? (FindLaw's Strategist)

Minnesota Statutes § 609.195. Murder in the third degree (FindLaw's Cases and Codes)

Third Degree Murder Overview (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)

Podcast: Murder Charges in the Context of Derek Chauvin's Trial (FindLaw's Don't Judge Me)

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