Chauvin Trial Day 4: The Story of Juror 37
Day 4 of the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd began with the official re-instatement of 3rd Degree Murder as one of the charges against him, with the rest of the day dedicated to jury selection. It was a day more clearly defined not by the single juror who was chosen but those who were not. No potential juror illustrates that more clearly than Juror 37.
Juror 37 was the third juror to be interviewed by the judge and attorneys for both sides in today’s voir dire process. She was also the most honest and forthcoming of the trial so far. An African-American mother of two children, she spoke in great detail about the traumatizing impact of seeing the video of Chauvin killing George Floyd. Stating that she could not “unsee” the video, including the image of Chauvin’s “hateful” face, she was direct and open about her feelings in a way no potential juror prior to her has been. In her time being questioned, she embodied the profound sense of horror that swept Minneapolis when the video first went viral after Floyd’s murder. And not surprisingly, she was dismissed.
It’s a key example of the fact that the concepts of “criminal justice” and “social justice,” by their very nature and definition, often have nothing in common short seven letters. While this reporting specifically attempts to address the events as they unfold in the courtroom with an understanding of procedure, this divide looms large over Chauvin’s trial.
In theory, jury selection in criminal trials seeks to find people who don’t know anything about the alleged crime or the people involved. The idea is that people will take only the information presented in court and then answer one question: did the prosecution prove the crime as charged? In this case, however, such jury selection is functionally impossible. There are no people who don’t know about George Floyd’s murder in Hennepin County. Arguably, there aren’t 12 people in the entire country who don’t know about George Floyd’s murder.
The players in this game in the courtroom—Judge Peter Cahill and attorneys from both sides—are well aware of this reality. They know everyone knows something, which is why questions like “Can you put aside your opinion and only look at the facts presented in court?” become so significant. Issues in jury selection make up a significant portion of appeals after conviction. It is undoubtable that defense attorney Eric Nelson would welcome a jury entirely made up of pro-cop, anti-social justice folks. In the same vein, if you believe the prosecution team led by Attorney General Keith Ellison has a vested interest in convicting Chauvin, then attorney for jury selection Steve Schleicher would definitely prefer a jury full of people like juror 37.
As we saw today, that’s not going to happen. Juror 37 was dismissed. Of the six jurors questioned today, all those who had visited George Floyd Square or had participated in a march or had a family member who had done so were also dismissed. (Schleicher once again objected to Nelson using a peremptory challenge to reject a Latino male, an objection Cahill rejected.) Juror 41, the final juror for the day, didn’t even make it to questioning from the attorneys, instead telling Judge Cahill immediately that she felt too strongly about the case to make a good juror and essentially asking to be dismissed.
Let’s ignore the fact for a moment that biased juries happen all the time to accused people who don’t have the money or support to get a lawyer with Eric Nelson’s level of expertise or skill. Let’s also ignore the fact that there’s any number of systemic issues embedded in the legal system that function to disenfranchise or at least disadvantage, well, pretty much anyone who isn’t an upper class white male like Chauvin. At the end of the day, the game we are seeing in the courtroom doesn’t speak to social justice because it can’t; social justice and criminal justice simply don’t operate in the same universe. There isn’t going to be a jury of folks with an unequivocable belief in social justice because that makes it more likely Chauvin could appeal a conviction. On the other hand, the jurors who’ve clearly landed on the pro-cop/anti-protest side of things have been rejected as well. Instead of Juror 37, whose horror at the video of George’s Floyd’s death seems like the only sane response, we’ll continue to see middle-of-the-road people like Juror 36, the only person seated today. That’s how the criminal justice system works.
The question is: it that how it should work? And if not, how do we make it work better?