Judge in Daunte Wright Trial Won't Allow Description of His Actions in Jury Instructions

The judge orchestrating the trial in Daunte Wright's death began preparation Monday for opening statements by establishing jury instructions that will not include a look at the man's actions during his fatal shooting.

Judge Regina Chu decided to follow standard jury instructions on most issues, and rejected proposed jury instructions about Wright's actions during a traffic stop that led to his death at the hands of Officer Kim Potter.

The defense asked Chu to add information that included how Wright did not follow commands from police officers, including Potter, the police officer who shot and killed Wright, and instead tried to escape from the police and drove a vehicle without a license. The defense also asked Chu to include that fleeing from a police officer is considered to be a violent crime in the jury instructions.

"His conduct was unreasonable and his own negligence contributed to the tragedy here," attorney Paul Engh said.

Chu rejected both requests, saying that fleeing from a police officer is not always a violent felony and that the allegations of Wright's actions can be presented in testimonies, but will not be included as jury instructions.

The trial is set to begin Wednesday with opening statements.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Judge Chu
The judge orchestrating Daunte Wright’s death trial has begun preparation for the open statements to begin on Wednesday, establishing the jury instructions for the trial. In this image from video, Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu discusses jury instructions in court Monday Dec. 6, 2021, in the trial of former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter in the April 11, 2021, death of Daunte Wright, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Court TV/Associated Press

Potter, 49, is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in Wright's April 11, 2021, death in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. Potter, who resigned two days after the shooting, has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright after he tried to drive away from officers while they were trying to arrest him, but that she grabbed her handgun instead.

Her body camera recorded the shooting.

Chu went with standard jury instructions to define second-degree manslaughter, which involves culpable negligence. For first-degree manslaughter, she said she would use language defining recklessness from jury instructions in an earlier case, which she said is the controlling law. She resisted defense efforts to substitute broader language that might have given Potter more of an advantage.

Chu said she would finalize the jury instruction on when police may use deadly force after hearing some testimony during the trial.

Jury instructions are important because they tell jurors what the law is and how the facts of the case should be applied to the law, said Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis-area defense attorney who is not connected to the case. Generally speaking, the defense tries to broaden the instructions so that prosecutors have more to prove, while the state tries to make the instructions as narrow as possible.

Brandt said judges will generally default to the state's standard instructions, because these have already been approved by judges from around Minnesota.

A jury of 14 people — including two alternates — will hear the case. Nine of the 12 jurors likely to deliberate are white, one is Black and two are Asian. The two alternates are white.

The jury's racial makeup is roughly in line with the demographics of Hennepin County, which is about 74% white. But the jury is notably less diverse than the one that convicted former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin this spring in the death of George Floyd.

Potter has told the court she will testify. She could be heard on body-camera video saying, "Taser, Taser, Taser" before she fired, followed by, "I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun."

Wright, 20, was shot as Chauvin was standing trial 10 miles away for killing Floyd. Wright's death sparked several nights of intense protests in the suburb.

The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove recklessness; the lesser requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota's sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count and four years on the second-degree one. Prosecutors have said they would seek a longer sentence.