The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed prosecutors’ request to delay the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, saying that although prosecutors argued that COVID-19 was a risk, they didn’t show that holding the trial in March would have a “critical impact” on its outcome.
The appeals court also dismissed the state’s request to hold a joint trial for Derek Chauvin and the three other former officers who face charges.
Mr. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Mr. Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and saying he couldn’t breathe. Mr. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The other defendants, J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, were charged with aiding and abetting counts.
Judge Peter Cahill ruled last month that Mr. Chauvin would stand trial on his own starting March 8 and that the other defendants would be tried together starting Aug. 23, citing a lack of courtroom space owing to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Prosecutors appealed, saying multiple trials would traumatize witnesses and the community, and that the evidence against all four defendants is similar. They also said all four officers should be tried in the summer, when COVID-19 may present less of a risk. Pretrial appeals are rare and are only allowed in limited circumstances.
The appeals court found that prosecutors did not show that holding Mr. Chauvin’s trial in March would have a “critical impact” on their ability to successfully prosecute the case, which is the threshold they need to meet for a pretrial appeal.
“Because the state has not shown critical impact on the outcome of the trial, and there is no basis for this court to exercise inherent authority to review the pretrial rulings challenged by the state, these appeals must be dismissed,” according to the decision.
The appeals court found that even though the state suggested in passing that its ability to prosecute the case might be affected by COVID-19 if trial participants get sick and a mistrial results, in general, the state arguments related “not to the state’s ability to prosecute but rather to public-health risks.”
The ruling says those concerns are important, but the judicial branch has safeguards in place. The appellate court also said that while it doesn’t dismiss concerns that COVID-19 could spread at protests or other activities outside the courtroom, “we are not persuaded that the concerns establish a rationale for appellate jurisdiction.”
Prosecutors didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment and it wasn’t clear if they planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, declined to comment.
The appellate court also declined to consider the state’s request to issue a “writ of prohibition,” in which it could order the lower court not to proceed. The appeals court said a write of prohibition is an extreme remedy, and a district court has discretion in making decisions on whether to postpone trials or try multiple defendants separately.
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