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How Chauvin trial has impacted its witnesses
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April 1, 2021

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In this image from video, witness Charles McMillian becomes emotional as he answers questions as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

The first days of testimony at the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death were dominated by witnesses to his arrest and countless videos that forced them to relive the trauma of it all over again.

One man who shouted “You can’t win!” at Floyd as the Black man struggled with police, bowed his head and sobbed on the stand. The teenager who shot widely seen bystander video cried as she talked about her guilt over not being able to help Floyd. A firefighter trained as an EMT broke down as she described her frustration because police prevented her from acting to save Floyd’s life. The young cashier who reported that Floyd used a $20 counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes — prompting a call to police — recalled his guilt as he watched Floyd struggling to breathe.

Attorneys on both sides at the trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin face a delicate balance in questioning witnesses who have experienced such pain while trying to advance their cases. The testimony raises questions about how witnesses who have suffered trauma are treated when they participate in the criminal justice system.

New York Law School criminal law professor Kirk Burkhalter, a former detective who leads a program on police reform, said the bystander testimony has been a powerful reminder of how police misconduct is a betrayal to the entire community.

“These people have been walking around with this pain for a year, unbeknownst to us,” he said. “They were victims of a crime. We just cannot forget that. They were trying to do their civic duty and they were prevented from interceding in something that was just completely horrible.”

Chauvin’s defense has even tried to paint some of the witnesses as part of a dangerous crowd, adding more pain, he said.


Probably not. The law generally does not recognize the emotional toll on witnesses as a harm, Burkhalter said.

In Minnesota law, a victim is anyone who incurs “loss or harm as a result of a crime, including a good faith effort to prevent a crime.” Some of the witnesses testified that they sought to stop Chauvin from using force against Floyd, and even called the police to report his actions. They also described the emotional harm they have endured.

The legal distinction between a witness and a victim is important. Victims have rights in criminal cases, including the right to be notified and object to any proposed plea agreements, and to give victim impact statements at sentencing hearings.


Potentially. Witnesses to crimes may apply for mental health counseling and other benefits from the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board.

Eligibility depends on individual circumstances and is decided on a case-by-case basis, said Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. If approved, they could be eligible for up to $7,500 in counseling and healing services.


Most of the laws and professional guidelines governing the treatment of witnesses are designed to protect their physical safety against retaliation and limit the inconvenience of having to testify.

National District Attorneys Association guidelines note that one of the greatest needs for witnesses is the assurance of safety against threats, harassment or intimidation. In Minnesota, a prosecutor can take steps to protect witnesses from having to reveal their home or employment addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth.

Generally, witnesses are also compensated for their time and the expense of testifying, including $20 per day in Minnesota plus mileage and meals. They are to be notified when to show up, with any delays minimized. And employers in Minnesota cannot retaliate against witnesses who have to take time off to testify.


Prosecutors have a duty to present the truth in court proceedings, and that can include gut-wrenching testimony from people who witnessed disturbing and distressing events.

At Chauvin’s trial, prosecuting attorneys frequently paused when witnesses were overcome, inviting them to take as much time as they needed. Chauvin’s attorney often skipped cross-examining witnesses, including a 9-year-old girl.

How much trauma witnesses have to relive on the stand largely depends on the attorneys’ strategies and what evidence the judge allows, said University of Iowa law professor Emily Hughes, a criminal law expert. Some may be unavoidable.

“In order for the prosecution to meet their burden and put in the evidence they need, they sometimes do have to put in really hard, traumatic facts,” Hughes said. “At the same time, sometimes the two sides are able to stipulate to certain information to protect witnesses or jurors or people from having to relive an experience like that again. When and how that happens is very much a case-by-case, witness-by-witness or fact-by-fact situation.”

Prosecutors have played bystander video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay face-down in handcuffs. They have argued that he persisted even after several onlookers tried to intervene and yelled at him to stop. Chauvin’s defense has argued that the videos show an angry crowd that made it harder to subdue Floyd.


Yes. A judge this week sided with prosecutors in blocking live television coverage of the testimony of four witnesses who were minors when they witnessed Floyd’s arrest. He allowed audio of their testimony.

The judge ruled that it would be up to the news media to determine whether to identify those witnesses by their names or to keep them confidential. One child witness appeared with an adult support person as allowed under Minnesota law.

Trauma yes police officers know about trauma how trumatized do you think the officers are after being verabled abused by the criminals or being assaulted what about going to calls daily and helping victims of rape or murder having to see abused kids mother's selling them selves to get drugs or a family killed by a drunk driver and to make it worse the news media trying to make law enforcement look bad and then when they are called upon to make a split second decision and have to use deadly force the rank above them throws them under the bus and bows to protesters because they are scared of a riot YEA I WONDER WHY THEY ARE ON EDGE how about this if people don't commit crime then you don't need to call police how about that for police reform maby we need people reform try starting with your self then your family the Church is open have you been i mean really been not just filling aseat and complaining about the government the only drug problem your family needs is being drug to church even if they don't want to go do your part to make the world better and stop blaming the police for your problems stoping every thing the media says in almost 20 years of law enforcement I don't think I met but 2 officers who I would have thought was racist one was a white male and the other a black female but I can say all of the sheriff's I worked for would have fired any racist officers
Posted by Cracker at 4/4/2021 2:42:36 PM

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