Derek Chauvin's Third Degree Murder Charge In The Death Of George Floyd Reinstated: Here's Why & What It Means

Photo: Getty / bgrocker / Shutterstock.com
Derek Chauvin and George Floyd

Derek Chauvin's trial in the death of George Floyd began quietly with jury selection this past Tuesday, March 9.

It has now been announced that not only will the former Minneapolis police officer face charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter, but Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill has reinstated a count of third-degree murder he had blocked back in October, saying he didn't believe it could be applied in this case.

Chauvin is pleading not guilty to all three of the charges he now faces.

Why was the third-degree murder charged reinstated and what does it mean?

Cahill had dismissed the charge of third-degree murder when it was first issued against Chauvin in the days following Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, saying Minnesota law "requires proof that someone's conduct was 'eminently dangerous to others,' not just to Floyd."

However, a ruling in the unrelated case against Minneapolis Police officer Mohamed Noor, who was found guilty of third-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczy while responding to a 911 call, set a new precedent.

RELATED: Who Is Kellie Chauvin? Derek Chauvin's Wife Seeks Divorce After His Arrest For George Floyd's Murder

Subsequently, an appeal was submitted by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. The motion was granted, and Judge Peter Cahill was ordered to reinstate the formerly cleared charge.

The district court (meaning, Cahill), "erred by concluding that it was not bound by the principles of law set forth in Noor and by denying the state's motion to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder on that basis," wrote Appellate court Judge Michelle Larkin on behalf of a panel of three judges.

"We therefore reverse the district court's order and remand for the district court to reconsider the state's motion to reinstate the third-degree murder charge in light of this court's precedential opinion in Noor."

This third charge against Chauvin is being widely seen as a small win for the prosecution, who will now have more pathways to conviction available.

It is also another signal to the general public and law enforcement alike that the movement to hold police officers accountable for acts of brutality and abuses of power will no longer be tolerated or handled lightly.

"The charge of 3rd-degree murder, in addition to manslaughter and felony murder, reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin," Ellison, the prosecuting lawyer in the case, said in a statement.

RELATED: Separate And Unequal: Why We Need To Defund The Police And Invest In Black Communities

Minnesota is one of just three states in the US that defines third-degree murders in its law. The other two states are Florida and Pennsylvania.

According to the Minnesota statute, third-degree murder, also known as murder in the third degree is defined as unintentional death caused by an act "eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life."

The exact statute reads as follows:

"(a) Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.

"(b) Whoever, without intent to cause death, proximately causes the death of a human being by, directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing, or administering a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $40,000, or both."

In the appeal to have the charge reinstated, it was argued that Chauvin had no regard for Floyd’s life when he kneeled on his neck for an extended period of time, even as Floyd explicitly stated he could not breathe.

Under this charge, Chauvin can be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Hey You! Want more of YourTango's best articles, seriously addictive horoscopes and top expert advice? Sign up to get our free daily newsletter!

This charge will join the two other charges of unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter which carry up to 40 and 10 years of prison respectively.

RELATED: Being A Black Man In America Means Never Feeling Safe

What happens next in Chauvin's trial?

Jury selection for the trial is still ongoing, with just six of the 14 needed jurors currently finalized.

So far, five men and one woman have been selected and the court will continue its process until a total of 12 jurors and two alternates have been chosen.

Opening statements in the high-profile case are expected to take place no earlier than March 29. The proceeding testimonies will then continue for roughly four weeks before any verdict is determined.

The case will be closely followed by millions across the U.S. and around the globe, many of whom also watched the devastating video of George Floyd’s final moments that captured Chauvin kneeling on his neck as he died from asphyxiation.

Floyd's death incited widespread protests against police brutality and racism under the Black Lives Matter movement.

Already, positive changes are slowly being enacted around the country, as communities grapple with how to rid ourselves of the scourage of systemic racism.

RELATED: It's Not Black People's Job To Solve Racism

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.