The prosecution and the defense gave their closing arguments this week in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd last year, and jurors were sent to deliberate until they reach a verdict. GBH News legal analyst and Northeastern law professor Daniel Medwed joined Joe Mathieu on GBH's Morning Edition to discuss the latest in the case. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Both sides gave lengthy closing arguments. What were the major differences between the two, at least in terms of major themes they emphasized?
Daniel Medwed: On the one hand, the prosecution, as expected, walked through the key items of evidence. After all, they presented a mountain evidence, and 38 witnesses, and they need to show that they had carried their burden of proving guilt. But one thing they relied on in walking through their case, quite understandably, was the video evidence. “Believe your eyes,” one of the prosecutors said in closing, use your common sense. In a sense, prosecutors were trying to remind jurors not to get too overwhelmed by the minutiae, the technicalities, the legalese and to just believe your eyes. On the other hand, the defense team seemed to present a more technical closing, designed not to focus the jurors on the bystander video or that image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck but to turn their attention to a couple of legal elements: that cause of death wasn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that, while tragic, Chauvin didn’t violate the “reasonable police officer” standard.
Mathieu: So those are the key differences. In contrast, was there anything about the two closings that struck you as similar?
Medwed: Yes. I found it interesting that they both used a tactic known as “time framing,” which is an effort by lawyers to define the time period of a criminal event. For the prosecution, the key period was the 9 minutes and 29 seconds of the video tape, and that’s what it urged the jury to focus on. For the defense, Eric Nelson urged jurors to consider a broader temporal spectrum — to view the tape in conjunction with the 16 minutes and 59 seconds that preceded it, events that in the defense view gave Chauvin reason to think Floyd was resisting and laid the groundwork for his death. It’s very common for lawyers to use this tactic — to expand or contract the time frame of an event — to suit their theory of the case.
Mathieu: The jury decamped for deliberations yesterday afternoon around 5pm our time. Should we read anything into the fact that they haven’t reached a decision yet?
Medwed: I think it’s far, far too early to tell. A lot of legal commentators like to espouse theories about what it means when a jury fails to come back quickly, often that it suggests they are struggling or that there is a holdout. I don’t really ascribe to those theories. In a case like this, with three serious charges in play including second degree murder, and weeks' worth of testimony to sort through, the jurors might just be taking their time to get a handle on the evidence. They know the eyes of the world are upon them, and I suspect they are taking their task seriously. And that means taking the time to go through everything. We might get more insight if we learn about any particular notes that they send to the judge for clarification about the law, but until then I think we just have to wait and withhold judgment.
WATCH: Daniel Medwed on his predictions in the Chauvin trial