[3/17/21] – Judge Reinstates Third-Degree Murder Charge Against Former Officer in George Floyd’s Death

A Hennepin County trial judge, on Thursday, March 11th, reinstated a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, one of the former Minneapolis police officers who was fired, arrested, and charged in the death of George Floyd. Last May, four police officers, including Chauvin, arrested Floyd for using counterfeit money to purchase cigarettes. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three policer officers not long after he was arrested. Videos captured by bystanders and bodycam footage showed Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for at least 8 minutes, although the county attorney’s office later confirmed that it was 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Social unrest soon eruptedacross the country and abroad as protestors expressed outrage over Floyd’s death, and more broadly, police brutality and racism.

The third-degree murder charge against Chauvin had initially been dismissed by a judge who claimed that it did not apply to the case. However, a new precedent was set in a case against another officer who was subsequently charged and convicted. As a result, the Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, filed a motion in February requesting the trial judge to reinstate the charge. Despite attempts by Chauvin’s attorneys to block the motion, the charge was reinstated, and Chauvin is now facing a total of three charges: third-degree murder, second-degree unintentional murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

The reinstatement of the charge came days after the jury selection, or voir dire, in the case began. As of Monday, March 15th, a total of 9 jurors had been seated; five of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic, and two as Black. Although opening statements were slated to begin on March 29th, questions are now being raised about the impact of the announcement that the Minneapolis City Council had agreed to pay Floyd’s family a $27 million dollars to settle the wrongful death lawsuit that was filed against the city would have on the jury pool. Chauvin’s defense attorney subsequently asked the judge overseeing the case to delay the trial and to reconsider a change-of-venue motion. The District Court Judge presiding over the case, Peter A. Cahill, referred to the developments as “concerning” but did “not believe there was any evil intent.” He reportedly agreed to call back the seated jurors closer to the day of opening statements. If convicted, Chauvin could face up 10-years in prison for second-degree manslaughter, 25-years for third-degree murder, and 40 years for second-degree murder.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain why the third-degree murder charge is critical to the prosecution.   
  • Debate: On Friday, March 12th, the Minneapolis City Council agreed to pay $27 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by George Floyd’s family. Do you believe that the announcement could impact the impartiality of the jury pool?
  • Poll: Derek Chauvin’s case should continue, despite the defense’s concerns regarding the announcement of the settlement between George Floyd’s family and the City of Minneapolis. (Agree or Disagree).
  • Short Answer: Discuss what the third-degree murder charge means. What does it carry?

Cover Image: © iStockphoto.com/YingYang

Which component of the criminal justice system would you like to see more coverage of in future Lecture Sparks?

Leave a Reply