Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's March trial in George Floyd's death could delay many other jury trials in Hennepin County due to security concerns.
Hennepin County Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette e-mailed the county's judges Tuesday with guidelines for delaying felony jury trials in light of Chauvin's trial and new COVID-19 guidance from the Minnesota Supreme Court, adding to a backlog of cases from others that were previously postponed because of the pandemic.
Barnette wrote that demands for a speedy trial made by defendants who are in custody, or in jail, will move forward, but the same demands from defendants who are out of custody will undergo additional scrutiny for possible exceptions until after Chauvin's trial.
"Why?" the judge wrote. "I'm concerned about protest and security related to this trial."
Barnette and the court did not return a message seeking comment on how many cases could be impacted, how exceptions would be granted and how the court would deal with its growing backlog of cases.
Jury selection in Chauvin's trial begins March 8. Opening statements are expected to begin March 29, with testimony and the presentation of evidence — which could take weeks — to follow.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes last May 25.
The U.S. and Minnesota constitutions guarantee defendants, whether jailed or not, the right to a speedy trial. State law calls for a trial to commence within 60 days of a speedy trial demand.
Trials for defendants who are in or out of custody and who have not demanded a speedy trial will be moved to May 3 or later, Barnette wrote.
It's unclear if similar measures will be implemented when Chauvin's former co-workers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — go to trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Safety has become a major issue in the trials after defense attorneys said demonstrators outside of a Sept. 2020 hearing assaulted Lane and his attorney, Earl Gray, and used a bicycle to strike a vehicle owned by Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett.
After another hearing that October, Thomas W. Moseley was arrested and charged for allegedly carrying a loaded gun and several knives inside the courthouse atrium. Moseley had also loudly shouted, "Kill Derek Chauvin!" His case is pending.
Defense attorneys have requested relocating the trials outside of Hennepin County, but Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the trials, has ruled that no other counties could provide better security than Hennepin.
Barnette's plan was also partly shaped by Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea's Jan. 21 order governing statewide court activities due to COVID-19.
Gildea ordered that effective Feb. 1, jury trials in progress will continue, but that no new jury trials will begin before March 15. She allowed each district's chief judge to grant exceptions. In-custody defendants charged with certain crimes who had made speedy trial demands were also exempt from the delay.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708