Media Contact

Sarah Davis, Legal Rights Center Associate Director, 612-677-2124
Lynette Kalsnes, ACLU of Minnesota, 612-270-8531,

May 31, 2020

UPDATED June 1, 2020: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has asked Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the prosecution of the officers who murdered George Floyd.

We appreciate that the Governor has taken a first step in responding to our concerns by asking the Attorney General to take over the George Floyd case, as the ACLU of Minnesota and the Legal Rights Center had urged. We are hopeful this will lead to real justice and the prosecution of all officers involved in George’s brutal murder.

The Legal Rights Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota have grave concerns about the legal sufficiency of the criminal complaint charging former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin with Third Degree Murder in the death of George Floyd. The charging of Third Degree Murder instead of First or Second Degree Murder may prove to be legally defective and allow Chauvin to evade the punishment warranted for his actions. 

The issuance of a potentially defective murder charge, combined with the delay by the Hennepin County Attorney’s office in charging Chauvin and the other involved officers, further strengthens and validates demands for appointment of a special prosecutor to handle charges arising from this tragic event and its aftermath. Both the LRC and ACLU-MN fully support and join these demands.

The complaint filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charging former officer Chauvin with Third Degree Murder is potentially deficient on its face and therefore incurably defective because, under Minnesota law, Third Degree Murder applies only when the acts of the defendant were committed without regard to their effect on any particular person, and not when the actions were directed to a specific person. Minnesota courts have repeatedly ruled that to support a charge of Third Degree Murder, the offender’s actions need to be “eminently dangerous to more than one person.”[1]  This has been the law in Minnesota since 1896 and includes numerous state Supreme Court decisions stretching all the way to the present saying the same thing.

The relevant facts in this case are clear. Officer Chauvin's actions were directed solely towards George Floyd and were not “eminently dangerous” to anyone other than George Floyd, although Chauvin and the other officers may well have been aware that their actions would ultimately spark the public outrage that has ravaged the Twin Cities ever since. The charge for Third Degree Murder therefore potentially will not stick.

It is inconceivable that experienced, professional Hennepin County prosecutors did not recognize the potential flaws in the Third Degree Murder charge. Charging Third Degree Murder instead of charging Second Degree murder or seeking an indictment for First Degree murder only serves to further undermine community trust in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. This is why the LRC and ACLU-MN demand the IMMEDIATE amendment of the murder charge and appointment of a Special Prosecutor.

The Legal Rights Center is a Minneapolis nonprofit established in 1970 that provides public defense, restorative justice and community advocacy services, primarily for people of color

The American Civil Union of Minnesota is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that works to preserve and promote the civil liberties of all Minnesotans.

[1] State v. Stewart, 276 N.W.2d 51, 54 (Minn. 1979) (emphasis added).