The media largely stopped reporting on the Chauvin story months ago, after the jury verdict was announced. The result of the show trial was never much in doubt. The only intrigue about the trial arose about whether the prosecutors would mess it up. To their credit, they did. There were multiple grounds for a mistrial.
Just one example: On the last day of trial, the prosecutor recalled one of its expert witnesses to rebut some of the claims made by the defense’s experts about the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. The State was given ample warning of everything the defense’s expert was going to say months earlier but, in its brash incompetence, failed to address the carbon monoxide issue. Judge Cahill warned the prosecutors that they were not to inquire into the issue, as they had been adequately put on notice, and they had neglected to cross-examine the expert during his testimony. This was undoubtedly the right ruling, and the judge warned the prosecutors that if they inquired into the carbon monoxide issue, they would risk a mistrial. What did the prosecutors almost immediately do? They asked about carbon monoxide.
But it never mattered. The question was whether the frenzy whipped up by the media and the left-wing mob could be curtailed into the bounds of judicial decorum. Judge Cahill found that this decorum was maintained. And when he imposed Chauvin’s 22.5 year sentence on Friday, he washed his hands of the whole thing. He even left most of the juicy parts of his legal reasoning to a written brief (as if sentencing decisions really required judicial reasoning). The Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court will decide if Chauvin’s show trial is worthy of being precedential for show trials to come.
The whole trial probably should not have happened at all. Chauvin was willing to plead to 3rd degree murder over the winter until US AG Bill Barr stepped in to put the kibosh on that. Chauvin was certainly trying to avoid the enhanced sentence Cahill imposed, which was ten years above what sentencing guidelines would have required. But a third-degree murder charge is nothing to wave a stick at. It would have saved the State of Minnesota incredible sums spent on trying the case.
There are two things you should understand about the American judicial system while looking at the outcome of the Chauvin verdict.
- America is a police state
- America is a police state that systematically under-punishes criminals.
In attempting a plea, Chauvin was trying to avail himself of the real justice system, the one that systematically under-punishes criminals. It does this through the process of plea-bargaining. Over 90 percent of criminal cases come about from plea bargains. Without understanding plea bargaining, you cannot understand how corrupt the criminal justice system really is.
A plea bargain is a contract between a defendant and a prosecutor to impose a sentence in return for the defendant’s guilty plea. The pled-for sentence is, as a rule, always less than that which could probably be gotten by the prosecutor given the facts of the case and the law. How do we know this? Because if the sentence were not better, the defendant would go to trial. The pled-for sentence–the sentence that holds in more than 90 percent of cases–is less than what would come as a result of conviction at trial, certainly less than the sentence recommended by the legislature.
Most critics of the plea bargaining regime hold it as unreasonably biased against defendants. This is hogwash. Defendants as a matter of course always end up better off. So do prosecutors. They end up getting convictions without the costly process of going to trial. So do judges and other bureaucrats. They know that if fewer cases ended in pleas, the system would collapse under its own delays and expense. Bleeding-hearts try to paint the plea bargaining regime as fundamentally coercive to defendants. The complaint can’t withstand a moment of scrutiny. Some defendants are innocent of the crimes they’re charged with. A vast vast majority are guilty. The only party that loses out in the plea-bargaining regime are the common people. Almost all of them would like criminals punished more severely. But unlike public defenders and prosecutors, they don’t have a state pension on the line, and their opinions can be neglected.
And yet we have a police state. But it operates in a way to under-enforce the law. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn describes how the occasional show trial was put on in order to give legitimacy to the system which was otherwise characterized by secret trials and executions. Judicial decorum covered up a system that was far more severe under the surface.
Our system does the opposite. The occasional trial is put out there to give the public the impression that we still have a functioning judicial system, full of juries, high ideals, Sorkinesque cross-examinations, and the rest. In fact, the system is characterized by bureaucrats making deals with other bureaucrats to ensure that reasonable penalties (i.e. penalties the facts and the law would otherwise demand) are never imposed.
Meanwhile, the definition of what constitutes a crime grows every year. Some of these laws have a clear political purpose. Hate crime laws come to mind. Others are just a way for the state to get its hooks in you, even if it has no serious intent to punish you if a conviction comes. A felon can get five years just for picking up a bullet. A man can be charged with first-degree burglary by walking into a neighbor’s house and taking two cigarettes in the neighbor’s presence. The purpose of these laws is not necessarily to punish anyone. The purpose is to get you in the system, subject to a whole coterie of bureaucrats–probation workers, social workers, DMV ladies, etc. One can fight these charges, but probably not successfully. If you do, you are likely to bankrupt yourself in the process. As Conrad Black said in reference to his own prosecution, “the process is the punishment.”
The Chauvin trial provides a good example of legal overreach. For the past two months I have been trying to explain to people how Derek Chauvin could be convicted of murder in Minnesota without actually intending any harm to your victim.
Murder, in a traditonal sense and in the minds of most people, involves the killing of a person with intent and/or knowledge. But almost all jurisdictions also have a “felony murder” murder, which allows the state to prosecute someone for murder, even when the alleged murderer has no intent to commit a homicide. All the prosecutor need show in a “felony murder” scenario is that someone died while in the course of committing another felony. The classic example is of a bank robber being charged with felony murder for an onlooker who dies of a heart attack while the robbery is taking place. The robber had no intent to kill anyone, but because the onlooker died as a proximate result of the robber’s felonious actions, he can be culpable for the man’s death.
In Minnesota, one of the felonies that can trigger the felony murder rule is assault. Now just like “murder,” the term “assault” has a common meaning different from Minnesota law. And amazingly in Minnesota, you can commit the crime of “assault” without actually intending any harm to the person assaulted. All the state has to prove in order to show “assault” is that you committed an intentional act which resulted in harm to the victim–the harm does not have to be foreseen or intentional.
What this all means is that in Minnesota, you can commit an “assault” without intending any harm to your victim; if your victim dies, you can be charged with murder on the theory that your assault caused the harm, even if unintentional, and this harm led to death. This is what happened to Derek Chauvin. The State did not prove that he had any intent to harm George Floyd by keeping him in a prone position. The State did not have to. All the State had to show is that Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s back intentionally, and that keeping him in a prone position caused great bodily harm–that was enough for the felony assault. That assault resulted in Floyd’s death, and there’s the murder.
The worst you could say about Chauvin is that he was reckless. In fact, even interpreting the jury’s verdict most in line with guilt, it’s most likely that Chauvin was merely negligent. Remember that three other former Minneapolis PD officers are now being charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin’s “murder.” In other words, these three men are being charged with aiding and abetting another man’s negligence. This is insane. The Chauvin trial was a joke, but these trials will be farces.
But Chauvin was ready to plead and do his time. He wanted no part of the show trial. Ninety percent of the drug addicts, thieves, and rapists in our system get pleas–why not a Minneapolis cop? It was because he was an enemy of the regime, whether he knew so on Memorial Day 2020 or not. Those addicts and thieves will be on parole and on your streets soon enough. But if you run afoul of the regime (for example, if you burn a Pride flag) you can rest assured you will not be able to avail yourself of the same leniency. You might even get a big, wonderful trial. But even if it’s not a deplorable circus like the Chauvin trial, it will still be a show trial, one put on to cover for a system that is fundamentally rotten, one which as a rule bends for the benefit of the worst among us. The best proof of this is not the show trial that sends Chauvin to prison, but that the addict and felon George Floyd was walking the streets on May 25, 2020 in the first place.