How George Floyd Video Will Play a Vital Role in Derek Chauvin Trial

Video showing Derek Chauvin's knee pressed against George Floyd's neck could be played to jurors early on in the former Minneapolis police officer's trial, legal experts say.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Opening statements in his trial are slated to begin Monday, after weeks were set aside to pick a jury.

Those jurors could soon be shown a witness' video of Floyd's arrest that captured Chauvin, who is white, with a knee pinned to the Black man's neck for almost nine minutes, while Floyd warned that he could not breathe before going limp.

The video, taken on May 25 last year, was posted on Facebook and circulated widely online, triggering protests against police brutality across the United States and beyond as well as instigating a national reckoning on race.

George Floyd memorial
A candlelight vigil is organized in the intersection of 38th St. and Chicago Ave on March 28, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Prosecutors have not said when they intend to play the video to jurors, but some legal experts have predicted that it could be as early as the prosecution's opening statement.

Jack Rice, a criminal defense attorney and a former prosecutor, told Newsweek that the video is the "most legally and viscerally damning piece of evidence " the prosecution team has in its arsenal.

"So expect to have the tape shown in its entirety and almost from the beginning of the prosecution's case," the Minnesota-based lawyer said, adding that he expects it to shown to jurors more than once.

Nicole Kettwick, a defense attorney and a partner at a law firm in suburban Minneapolis, agreed the video is "powerful" and likely to be shown as early as permitted.

"It's what set the entire world into uproar about what happened," she told Newsweek.

"I think it'll be [shown] real early on, and probably as often as they're allowed," she added.

"The one judgement call the judge will have to make is whether playing it will be too prejudicial, but I do think the judge will permit it in opening statements."

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and the managing director of Berkeley Research Group in Chicago, told the Associated Press that prosecutors will want to "start off strong."

He said: "You want to frame the argument—and nothing frames the argument in this case as much as that video."

Rice said the defense team can't ignore the video. "They must embrace it. It is brutal. They know it. Nevertheless, they will need to characterise it as proof of a different sort," he said.

For instance, he explained, the defense team could argue that Floyd speaking in the video was evidence that he could breathe.

"Show the knee on the back of the neck, not the windpipe," Rice said of possible defense strategies. "Show the technique the Minneapolis Police Department said was okay. This is a much more difficult effort for the defense."

The legal experts also noted that while the video is important evidence, the crux of the case rests on whether Chauvin caused Floyd's death and whether or not his use of force was justified.

Cramer added that a key point that will be whether or not Chauvin acted reasonably. "Obviously the result was tragic, but were the actions reasonable at that time for that officer," he told the AP.

Kettwick said expert testimony about the cause of death and about police protocol will certainly be important evidence in the trial.

She added: "Of course in trials, the jury is the one who decides what the most important pieces are, and sometimes it's hard to predict what they're gonna hang on, but because that video is just so powerful to so many people, I have to believe it's going to be for the jury as well."

Only one of the 15 jurors selected, a white man in his 20s, said he had never seen the video of Floyd's arrest, according to the AP, while the rest said they had seen at least parts of it.

Some said the bystander video left them with at least a somewhat negative view of Chauvin, but said they could set that aside to serve as jurors.