Legal Analysis: With the arrest of one police officer connected to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many are wondering why the prosecution did not charge Derek Chauvin with the more serious crime of murder in the first degree.
Chauvin, instead, faces the lesser charges of third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
In considering what charges to pursue, prosecutors have to look at what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
In this case, the issue seems to center around what Chauvin was thinking at the time of Floyd's death.
On May 25, Floyd was taken into custody by a group of officers in Minneapolis, and video showed a man identified as Chauvin kneeling on his neck while Floyd was pinned to the ground.
Bystander video shows Floyd repeatedly saying, 'I can't breathe,' as Chauvin continues to kneel on his neck for a period of nearly nine minutes, before Floyd eventually loses consciousness and was later pronounced dead.
As you might guess, third degree murder is easier to prove than first degree murder, and it all comes down to being able to prove Chauvin's state of mind as Floyd died.
Ohio has its own version of Minnesota's third degree murder charge, called involuntary or reckless manslaughter, with similar requirements to prove the crime.
Under Minnesota's third degree murder charge, the prosecution doesn't have to prove intent to kill a specific person, or the existence of a prior plan, in order to win a conviction.
A typical example of this kind of case includes when someone kills someone by firing a gun in to a crowd or driving through a crowded sidewalk, without aiming at a specific person.
Proving Chauvin's second charge of second degree manslaughter can be satisfied if the prosecution can show he acted negligently, or not like a reasonable person would act.
First degree murder in Minnesota, on the other hand, requires specific intent to kill the person who died, which is much more difficult to prove.
Rather than risk not being able to convince a jury that Chauvin actually meant to kill Floyd, prosecutors likely opted for the lesser charges to better their chances of securing a conviction in Chauvin's case.
Aside from the different mental elements required for the individual charges, the most important difference is how long you spend paying for the crime if convicted
Floyd effectively was given a death sentence without a trial, a sentence which was never on the table for Chauvin because Minnesota doesn't offer the death penalty as an option even for the worst crimes.
Instead, Minnesota's sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of 12 and a half years for a conviction on a third degree murder charge and four years in prison for a conviction on a second degree manslaughter charge.
Even if Chauvin had been charged with first degree murder, which he hasn't the harshest possible punishment would have been life in prison.
For Chauvin who is 44 years old, if convicted, that's the difference between getting out of jail in his 60s, when you can still have a whole life after that, or spending the rest of his days behind bars.
As for the independent autopsy secured by Floyd's family, which reportedly shows that Floyd died of 'asphyxiation from sustained pressure,' the odds that changes the charges Chauvin faces are slim.
Again, that's because to be convicted of first degree murder requires proving intent.
While the results of the independent autopsy are troubling, the results don't add any new information as to what was going through the officer's mind at the time that Floyd died.
New information has become available, however, as to the roles three other officers, who have all since been fired, played in Floyd's death, though none have yet been charged with crimes.
Stephanie Haney is licensed to practice law in both Ohio and California.
The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only. None of the information in this article is offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice on any matter.