Questionnaire goes out to potential jurors in case against former MPD officers charged in George Floyd's death

Callan Gray
Updated: December 22, 2020 10:40 PM
Created: December 22, 2020 10:04 PM

In just three months, the trial will begin for the four former Minneapolis Police officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin faces 2nd Degree Murder and Manslaughter charges. Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

A court filing on Tuesday shows the questions potential jurors will have to answer before the trial. 

The questionnaire seeks a response to more than 69 prompts in six sections. 

The first questions asks potential jurors what they know about the case from media reports. The questionnaire provides them a page to describe it in their own words. 

“It’s basically setting out to the potential jurors, give us a narrative of what you know, tell the story of this case,” said Mark Osler, Professor at the University of St.Thomas School of Law and Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law. “What that does, and I think it's wise, is it's going to allow some biases to come to the surface organically as they describe the case.”

The jurors are also asked whether they, or someone they’re close to, participated in any demonstrations or marches against police brutality that followed George Floyd’s death. There is a question about whether they, or someone they know, was injured or suffered property damage during the unrest. 

The questionnaire asks jurors how favorably or unfavorably they see both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. 

In addition, it asks whether they believe Minneapolis Police officers are more likely to respond with force when confronting black suspects than white suspects. There is also question about whether it’s right to second guess decisions made by law enforcement while on duty given the dangerous nature of the job. 

“This questionnaire is particularly thorough,” said Osler. “It's the kind of questionnaire that we see in things like death penalty cases in states where we have them. In situations where it's a lesser charge than that, it's rare.”

Osler told us he was surprised by some of the questions, including one that asked how many times a potential juror has watched videos of Floyd’s arrest and death. 

“That’s an unusual question,” said Osler. “It's not just ‘Have you seen media coverage?’ but specifically self-selection. How many times have you watched it on the internet is going to tell the lawyers, is this someone who is unusually engaged in this specific event? This is something we don’t see in a normal case but appropriate to ask about here.”

“One of the other questions that jumped out at me is ‘If you went to a protest, what did your sign say’,” said Osler. “Again it would be really wrong to exclude someone based on what it said on their sign but that is going to be a jumping off part for further examination once that person is live, in-person.”

Jurors are expected to start appearing at the Government Center on March 8th for selection.

“Everyone has biases of some kind,” said Osler. “The first thing people are going to be excluded for is cause, that is that they have bias that they can’t set aside. Those people are not going to be allowed to be part of the jury […] Now, the second part of it is each side has preemtory strikes where they don’t have to state a reason.”

He said, however, that bias on the questionnaire doesn’t automatically disqualify a potential juror.  

“They’re going to be asked follow-up question about can you be fair? Can you set aside any ideas you bring generally about these issues and instead strictly follow the judge's instructions?” he said.

According to Osler, it can take more time to select a jury when a case is highly publicized. It’s expected to take until March 26th to select a jury, which is longer than normal.

“One of the things about this case that we really can't ignore is that the credibility of criminal justice rests on it,” he said. “Not just people in Minnesota but around the world are going to be looking to see if this is fair, if this is just, if this is rational and so if it takes time to get it right, let's take the time to get it right.”

The questionnaires are due back on January 2nd. The attorneys on both sides will then take a look and decide what follow-up questions to ask a juror, if that person is summoned. 


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