19 April 2021. National Review, New York: Judge Cahill denied a motion for mistrial but explained how the California lawmaker has created a potentially significant issue on appeal if Chauvin is convicted.
By her reprehensible comments and behavior, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) has now jeopardized any possible conviction should the jury find Derek Chauvin guilty of murder or manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. That was the observation of Judge Peter Cahill in open court, at the conclusion of summations on Monday afternoon in Minneapolis.
The jury began its deliberations at about 4 p.m. Central Time.
Judge Cahill made his remarks about Congresswoman Waters’s rabble-rousing upon the renewal by defense counsel Eric Nelson of Chauvin’s motion for a mistrial based on prejudicial publicity and jury intimidation. The court denied the motion but acknowledged that Waters’s comments create a potentially significant issue on appeal if the jury finds Chauvin guilty of any of the three counts
“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” the judge said, noting that he wishes “elected officials would stop talking about this case.”
As NR’s Zachary Evans has reported, Waters had urged demonstrators to “stay in the street” and become “more confrontational” if Chauvin is not found guilty. Waters was speaking at Saturday’s protests in Brooklyn Center, Minn., over the tragic accidental killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer, Kim Potter, who appears to have mistaken her service firearm for the Taser she intended to discharge. Those protests devolved into rioting, and Waters was also violating the curfew that the mayor had imposed to try to suppress the violence.
Brooklyn Center is a suburb of Minneapolis, about ten miles from the courthouse where Chauvin is being tried. One of the jurors in the trial resides there, and other jurors have ties to the community.
Judge Cahill aptly asserted that a judicial process with integrity is essential to our system, and that it is the responsibility of all government officials to support it. To have a member of Congress undermine it is stunning, though the judge hoped that it would not have much impact.
Cahill took umbrage at what he sees as legislative interference in the processes of the judiciary, a separate branch of government. He’s got the right idea but did not express it accurately. The U.S. Congress, of which Waters is a member, is a separate branch from the U.S. judiciary, not of the state courts of Minnesota.
Nevertheless, it is clearly true that a federal government official owes respect to state judicial processes, which are giving effect to important constitutional rights. Moreover, it was egregious of Waters to show up in Minnesota and impede the administration of justice, which is a potential violation of the state’s laws.
Bear in mind that Waters’s unhinged comments did not occur in a vacuum. The defense has claimed from the start that Chauvin cannot get a fair trial in Hennepin County. When Daunte Wright was killed a few days ago, defense counsel Eric Nelson moved for the court to sequester the jury. This was at the tail end of the presentation of evidence.
Cahill could have done so and moved ahead speedily with summations, jury instructions, and deliberations. Instead, the court decided to make Friday an off day to give the lawyers more time to prepare their summations. Consequently, the jurors were sent home for a long weekend, under circumstances where it was obvious that the publicity would be intense and rioting was likely.
Cahill has done an excellent job for the most part, but I believe the failure to sequester the jury last week was a bad call. It has made the record on prejudicial publicity and potential jury intimidation worse.
To be fair, it is better not to make a final assessment of claims about jury prejudice until we see what the jury does — how it deliberates, what notes it sends, how it resolves the case, and whether there is a linear connection between that resolution and the evidence in the case. Hypothetically, for example, if the jury were to acquit Chauvin on the depraved-indifference murder charge but convict him on one or both of the other counts (felony murder and manslaughter), it could be argued that they tuned out the prejudicial noise and made a discriminating appraisal of the case, which is the essence of the jury’s duty.
As with everything else in this case, we wait and watch.