The Jury Selection Process for the Derek Chauvin Case, Explained
By Sydney Pascal
The trial for Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in the George Floyd case, is steadily approaching. The murder of George Floyd sparked the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and became a highly controversial issue, leading some to march in protest of police brutality while others have sided with the Minnesota Police Department.
The heavy controversy surrounding the George Floyd case has made it difficult to select twelve jurors and two alternates for an impartial jury. Jurors are chosen through the Voir Dire process, in which attorneys select jurors through a process of rejecting certain jurors to hear the case.
The questionnaire begins with an open response, asking the potential juror to “provide a full account of what you recall from what you have heard or seen in the media.” This question will provide the court with evidence of any bias present in the potential juror. The media coverage for the case has been notably extensive, which has left room for many different—and often opposing—sides of the story. In this instance, lawyers are not looking for people oblivious to the case, as this would be nearly impossible with the vast media coverage it has received in the past year. Specifically, courts are looking for people with little to no developed opinions on the case. Any potential jurors with strong opinions will not be on the case and will be promptly eliminated from the search. Also, like any jury selection, courts are searching for a diverse group of people with many different backgrounds.
The remaining parts of the questionnaire, besides the “Trail Length and Ability to Serve” and standard “Personal Background” sections, are the most indicative of who the court is looking for, and are as follows: “Media Habits,” “Police Contacts,” and “Opinions Regarding the Justice System.” Each of these pertains to monitoring biases lawyers want to eliminate from the jury.
With “Media Habits”, lawyers ask what sources the potential juror is getting their news from and how actively they check the news. Not only does this give the court an idea of how up-to-date the potential juror is on the case, but it can also show a basic understanding of where the potential juror may stand on the case as certain sources have biases and report on certain topics more than others.
The “Police Contacts” questions range from examinations of family relations and run-ins with the police force to inquiries about the potential jurors' thoughts on police brutality and discrimination.
The “Opinions Regarding the Justice System” is similar, as it delves into the surveyor's opinions on how fair the US justice system is. Attorneys ask potential jurors questions such as “Do you believe our criminal justice system works?”, and “Under our system of justice, the jury must decide the case solely on the evidence produced in court and the law that the judge instructs, and not because of bias, passion, prejudice, or sympathy. Would you have difficulty following this principle of law?” While these are not only standard questions in a criminal case like this one, they are imperative to the court’s search for a jury because they highlight if the juror will be able to put aside any bias and only make their decision based on evidence.
Overall, the court is looking for people with the least amount of potential bias or those who are willing and able to put aside any bias to make a fair decision solely off of the evidence the court provides – which is especially hard in a case like this because of how many different news sources have covered it.
Currently, out of the twelve jurors that have been selected for the Chauvin trial, six are white, four are Black, and two identify as multiracial. With the news of a 27 million dollar settlement from the city to George Floyd’s family, defense lawyers are arguing that jurors' knowledge that the city is seemingly siding with Floyd could disrupt their impartialness. However, others argue that this could affect the jury in an opposing way, with the mindset that there is no need to further convict Chauvin because Floyd’s family has been given reparations. There have been two jurors let go and replaced because of this uncertainty. Judge Peter Cahill agreed that this settlement may affect the jury, telling reporters, “let’s face it, it’s not just a legal decision, it’s a political decision, and I think people realize that."
The trial is scheduled for March 29, 2021.