Derek Chauvin Is Guilty of First Degree Murder

Brief by legal expert Alexander C. Baker, J.D.

Officer Derek Chauvin has (finally) been charged with a murder, but only murder in the third degree. I will show that under the applicable Minnesota Statutes, he must be charged with First Degree Murder, by showing that the murder was:

  • Intentional willful and premeditated, or

  • committed in furtherance of terrorism.

The mere charge of third degree murder will be shown indefensible.


Minnesota Statutes, § 609.185, providing a mandatory life sentence, defines MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE, among other things, as a person who:


(1) causes the death of a human being with premeditation and with intent to effect the death of the person or of another;

Derek Chavin demonstrated willfullness, deliberation and premeditation in the murder of George Floyd.


Although the exact state laws defining first-degree murder vary by state, most state penal codes require that a prosecutor establish willfulness, deliberation, and premeditation in order to convict a defendant of first-degree murder.


Willfulness - Willfulness requires that the defendant acted with the intent to kill another person. Thus, the death cannot have been accidental. Intent is shown when the perpetrator knew, or reasonably should have known, that the actions taken would lead to the result that ultimately occurred. Chauvin pinned Floyd down by kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes during which time Floyd gasped for breath, and managed to say "I can't breathe". Chauvin continued to choke Floyd for over 2 minutes after Floyd became nonresponsive. Any reasonable person, let alone a trained police officer, would know that choking a person can lead to death, especially if the person become unresponsive. And yet, Chauvin continued for well over 2 minutes after Floyd became nonresponsive.


Deliberation and premeditation - mean that the prosecutor must show that the defendant developed the conscious intent to kill before committing the murder. This is a low threshold and does not require showing that the defendant created an extensive plan before he committed the act (although that might sometimes be the case). Rather, deliberation and premeditation require only that the defendant paused, for at least a few moments, to consider his actions, during which time a reasonable person would have had time to second guess such actions.


The video evidence clearly shows Chavin pausing and considering what he was doing to Floyd. Indeed, Chavin is clearly well-aware that he is being video recorded. Chauvin has ample opportunity to fully consider that he is killing George Floyd. There is no minimum amount of time required to deliberate and premeditate. Premeditation can occur in mere moments. The 6 minutes of time Chauvin choked Floyd prior to his becoming nonresponsive is more than sufficient time to premeditate his actions.


Therefore, Derek Chauvin is guilty of First Degree Murder.


Under a separate subsection of Minnesota Statutes, § 609.185, First Degree Murder is also proven when the killer:

(7) causes the death of a human being while committing, conspiring to commit, or attempting to commit a felony crime to further terrorism and the death occurs under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.

Clearly Chavin manifested an extreme indifference to George Floyd's human life. Conviction will turn upon the definition of crimes committed in furtherance of terrorism, which is found at Minnesota Statutes § 609.714


CRIMES COMMITTED IN FURTHERANCE OF TERRORISM.

As used in this section, a crime is committed to "further terrorism" if the crime is a felony and is a premeditated act involving violence to persons or property that is intended to: (1) terrorize, intimidate, or coerce a considerable number of members of the public in addition to the direct victims of the act; and (2) significantly disrupt or interfere with the lawful exercise, operation, or conduct of government, lawful commerce, or the right of lawful assembly.


Derek Chavin knew he was being video recorded. He knew he was killing George Floyd. He calmly continued kneeling on Floyd's neck for well over 2 minutes after Floyd became unresponsive. Chauvin must have known that the videos would "go viral", it is unreasonable to think otherwise. He must have intended to terrorize, intimidate or coerce a considerable number of members of the public, as if to say to the entire nation, "I am the law. I kill when I wish, and there is nothing you can do to stop me."


Given our country's long history of civil unrest following police brutality and the justice system's failure to adequately prosecute, it is only reasonable to conclude that Chauvin acted with an intent to significantly disrupt or interfere with the lawful exercise, operation, or conduct of government, lawful commerce, or the right of lawful assembly. As a direct and proximate result of Chauvin's actions, civil unrest has erupted around the entire country, which result was forseeable given the brazen attitude in killing George Floyd, and Chauvin's knowledge of being video recorded while doing it. The civil unrest has indeed caused disruptions to government, to lawful commerce and to the right of lawful assembly, as police departments have been burned down, stores have been looted, and curfews imposed.


Therefore, Derek Chauvin is guilty of First Degree Murder.

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