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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chauvin expected to change plea to guilty in federal civil rights case

The former Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer is expected to change his not-guilty plea at a Wednesday hearing.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A Monday court scheduling update in the federal case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin indicates that he plans to change his not-guilty plea on charges that he violated George Floyd’s civil rights. 

Chauvin, who is currently serving a 22 ½-year state prison sentence following his conviction on murder and manslaughter charges in April, is facing federal charges alleging that Floyd’s death constituted a violation of the Black man’s civil rights. Chauvin first pleaded not guilty to those charges in September. He has also pleaded not guilty to similar charges alleging that he also violated a Black teenager’s civil rights by kneeling on him and beating him with a flashlight in 2017. 

A change-of-plea hearing has now been set for Wednesday morning in the Floyd case. While it’s unclear exactly what the changes will be, since Chauvin was indicted on two different counts in this case, the former officer has shown interest in plea deals in the past; according to reporting from the New York Times, he was on the cusp of one with state prosecutors shortly after Floyd’s death, but the deal was nixed when then-Attorney General William Barr refused to sign on to immunizing Chauvin from federal charges. 

At his state-court sentencing, Chauvin also made cryptic allusions to “some other information in the future that would be of interest,” and that he hoped that information would bring the Floyd family “peace of mind.” He said he couldn’t say more because of other legal issues, prompting some to speculate about a plea deal. 

It’s also unclear how Chauvin’s changed plea will impact the cases of his three co-defendants, fellow former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. The trio are set to go to trial in state court in March, and last month U.S. Magistrate Judge Tony Leung denied their motions to be tried separately from Chauvin in federal court. 

Attorneys for all three officers have argued in both state and federal court that their clients could not stand trial alongside Chauvin and expect a fair trial. 

The federal trial has also raised some local hackles in Minnesota's capital St. Paul, where it is expected to be held. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s office requested late in November that U.S. District Chief Judge John Tunheim move the trial across the river, citing security concerns, traffic congestion, the smaller size of the courthouse and its proximity to two schools and two day care centers. Minneapolis spent some $3.7 million on hosting Chauvin’s state-court trial, a figure that St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said was concerning to him. 

Chauvin also faces tax-evasion charges in Washington County, the suburban county on Minnesota’s eastern border where he lived prior to Floyd’s death and where he is currently imprisoned. Prosecutors there brought nine counts each of aiding and abetting tax fraud against Chauvin and his wife, Kellie Chauvin, in July of 2020. The couple, prosecutors said, underreported their income in three separate years and did not file Minnesota income taxes at all from 2016 through 2018. They also allegedly registered a car in Florida to avoid paying sales taxes and registration fees after they purchased it in Minnesota. 

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, did not respond to a request for comment late Monday afternoon.

Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal, National, Trials

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