The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday rejected former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's appeal for a new trial outside Hennepin County.
The decision comes nearly three years since George Floyd's murder in May 2020, when Chauvin knelt on the Black man's neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin's appellate attorney William Mohrman argued that pretrial publicity — the global unrest, media coverage and calls for police reform — made a fair trial impossible.
But a three-judge panel issued a unanimous 50-page decision stating that Chauvin failed to show prejudice among jurors or in the publicity surrounding his trial. Presiding Judge Peter Reyes wrote the decision considered by him and Judges Elise Larson and Roger Klaphake.
"Police officers undoubtedly have a challenging, difficult, and sometimes dangerous job," Reyes wrote. "However, no one is above the law. When they commit a crime, they must be held accountable just as those individuals that they lawfully apprehend. The law only permits police officers to use reasonable force when effecting a lawful arrest. Chauvin crossed that line here when he used unreasonable force on Floyd."
Mohrman said in an interview Monday that he is disappointed in the decision.
"We're obviously going to consult with Mr. Chauvin and see what options can be pursued here," he said. "We certainly have the option to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case and probably will."
If so, the Supreme Court has discretion on whether they will review the case.
Mohrman told the panel in January that the main remedy for Chauvin would be a new trial outside of the Hennepin County Government Center because the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis was "surrounded by concrete block, barbed wire, two armored personnel carriers and a squad of National Guard troops" all there with one purpose: "in the event that the jury acquits the defendant." Leading up to Chauvin's verdict, he said, the city braced for more riots in the event of an acquittal.
Even if Chauvin, 47, would have won his appeal, he would still be serving 21 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to violating Floyd's civil rights. He remains incarcerated at a medium-security federal prison in Tucson, Ariz.
Chauvin's legal proceedings reached beyond Floyd's murder. He appeared in a Zoom hearing from prison last month to plead guilty to tax evasion charges out of Washington County where he used to live with his now ex-wife, Kellie Chauvin. She pleaded guilty to similar charges in February and filed for divorce two days after Floyd's murder.
And just last week, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $9 million in brutality settlements after paying the Floyd family a $27 million settlement in March 2021. A woman and then 14-year-old boy said they were pinned by Chauvin three years before he fatally pinned Floyd. Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating their civil rights as well.
A Hennepin County jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April 2021. He was sentenced to 22½ years in prison that June and later pleaded guilty in federal court.
Mohrman argued that the jury was tainted because the killing and trial all played out in Minneapolis. "The jurors that sat on this jury had a stake in the outcome of the case because they lived here where the riots occurred," he said.
He said that if the trial was moved out of state, there would be zero chance of riots.
Neal Katyal, who was acting U.S. solicitor general during the Obama administration and served as one of the special prosecutors in Chauvin's murder trial, said in his oral argument in January that even if the trial were in a smaller venue, security would stand out and there would be the same fears of civil unrest.
Chauvin's trial was the first in Minnesota to be livestreamed worldwide. District Judge Peter Cahill made the rare exception because of the pandemic and high public interest.
Katyal said it was one of the most transparent, thorough trials in U.S. history and Chauvin's appeal arguments do not come close to reversing his convictions.
Katyal, who served as special attorney, deferred comment to the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.
Keith Ellison, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in a statement that his thoughts are with Floyd's family and the communities that suffered because of his death. "We cannot bring Floyd back, but I hope today's decision brings another measure of justice," Ellison said.
"I am ... grateful we have a system where everyone, no matter how egregious their offense, is entitled to due process and fair treatment. The Court's decision today shows once again no one is above the law — and no one is beneath it."