Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson has claimed that the 19-year Minneapolis police veteran did what he was trained to do and that Floyd died because of his illegal drug use and underlying health problems.
Closing arguments will conclude on Monday and then the key issue for jurors to determine will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable. Any guilty verdict must be unanimous.
Under US law, there is more than one kind of murder charge. Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second- and third-degree murder, as well as manslaughter.
For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing assault at the time.
For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and were reckless and without regard for human life.
The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.
Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third-degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 and a half years in prison if convicted on either charge. Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.
As well as reinforcements at the courthouse, city and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the protests that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilised as the world awaits a verdict.
If Chauvin is convicted, it could lead to a nationwide reckoning on race.
Around 1,000 people are killed by police officers in the US a year. Data compiled by Philip M Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio found that since 2005, 121 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings. Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often on a lesser charge, he said.
If Chauvin is not convicted, CNN anchor Van Jones has warned: “It will be perceived as open season, telling police officers from coast to coast you can literally get away with murder in broad daylight.
“The system is on trial here. If this is considered legal conduct from a police officer, if you can do this in broad daylight and not go to jail…”
Some 63% of Americans surveyed in a Monmouth University Poll released this week said a not guilty verdict would be a step back for race relations in the country. Only 5% said it would be positive and 29% said it would not change matters as a whole.
Carolyn J Ruff, founder of the group Black Lives Matter Women of Faith, told the FT: “If we don’t get justice, America is going to be shut down.”
According to Mapping Police Violence, Black people were 28% of those killed by police in the US in 2020, despite making up only 13% of the population.