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Jury can’t hold decision not to testify against Chauvin


MINNEAPOLIS (WKOW) -- A jury must decide the fate of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin without hearing from Chauvin himself.

Chauvin is charged with second degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. His defense team rested its case Thursday afternoon without calling Chauvin to the stand, a decision Chauvin told the judge was his own.

It's been two and a half weeks since opening statements in the case. In total, the prosecution called 38 witnesses in 11 days, while the defense called seven witnesses in just two days.

UW-Madison law professor Keith Findley says juries must take into account testimony from witnesses, but they're instructed not to judge defendants differently if they don't testify -- since everyone has a 5th Amendment right not to.

"Now, that's the law on the books. Does a jury infer negative things from the failure to testify?" Findley said. "Once they get in the jury room, nobody knows what they do. And nobody knows what's going on inside their heads."

Findley says having a defendant testify is always risky and opens them up to harsh cross examination.

"You ultimately sometimes make the case be about what kind of a communicator you are, how likable you are, how nervous you might get or a wide range of things that may not have anything really to do with guilt," he said.

Chauvin has never spoken publicly about George Floyd's death, though some were interested to hear how he would have characterized what happened that day.

In a statement to 27 News, Jim Palmer with the Wisconsin Professional Police Association said,

"I believe a lot of officers throughout the country would also be interested in hearing what Derek Chauvin was thinking when he killed George Floyd last year, or to get a sense as to whether he regrets his actions. Ultimately, there really isn’t anything Mr. Chauvin could say to justify or explain away what he did, and for that reason, his decision today not to testify comes as no surprise."

The trial is now in recess until Monday, when closing arguments begin and the jury is expected to begin deliberations.

Until then, however, the jury will not be sequestered.

Chauvin's trial, plus two recent police shootings of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, MN and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, IL, are all over the news.

Findley says the judge has asked the jury to avoid all media.

"That's what they should be doing," Findley said. "No one's watching them, though. So they're all on sort of their honor system to play by the rules."

The defense tried to get the jury sequestered after Wright was killed, but the judge denied that.

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