What to expect in closing arguments for ex-officers’ federal civil rights trial

The defense rested its case Monday in the trial of three former Minneapolis Police officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights. The prosecution and the attorneys for each of the ex-officers will present closing arguments on Tuesday.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane each face one federal count for willfully failing to provide medical aid to Floyd. Thao and Kueng also face a second count for willfully failing to intervene with Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force, according to the criminal complaint.

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“What we’re going to see the parties do is match up the law with the evidence,” said Mark Osler, the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “They’re going to be telling the jury, from the prosecution perspective, we need to prove this element and here’s what you saw from witnesses that shows that element has been proven.”

He explained the prosecution will explain each of the counts and break down which of the charges applies to each of the ex-officers.

“The prosecution is not just saying that they killed George Floyd, they’re saying they failed to do something, that there was an omission of duty to act,” said Osler. “That’s just more complicated because there has to be a duty to act.”

The prosecution has to prove each of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. According to Osler, the defense teams will make the case there is reasonable doubt through each of their closing arguments.

“It may be different between the different defendants,” Osler said. “I expect with the defense attorneys, they’re going to try not to be redundant and all explain the same thing or all go on and on about the high burden that the government has to meet. That means it could go faster than some people think it’s possible that we could be done by the end of the day tomorrow.”

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Thao, Kueng and Lane each took the stand as their respective attorneys presented their defenses. Lane testified on Monday as the last witness in the trial.

“People tend to overvalue the last thing that they heard so the defense being able to present their witnesses last, it offers that advantage,” Osler said. “But in closing argument, the government will go first, the defense goes second and then the government gets to go last and provide a rebuttal argument and so in a way [the prosecution is] going to get the benefits of the recency effect in their own way.”

Once the jury receives the case, they will decide on each of the ex-officers’ charges individually.

“There are some things in this case the jury may spend some time on and because you have multiple defendants, that could complicate things too,” said Osler. “They could decide quickly on two of them and not on a third. And there’s terms that will be defined for them by the judge, like under the color of law or willfully deprived on rights that they may spend some time sorting out what that means in the context of this case.”