Charges against the police officer are elevated in the George Floyd murder. Unclear if this is a good idea.

It is unusual but not unique that Minnesota law has three degrees of murder. From the CNN article, here’s some legal definitions:

Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder is defined as causing the death of a person “by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind,” without regard for life but without intent to kill.

Second-degree murder, a more serious charge, is defined as when a person causes the death of another “without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense,” according to an amended criminal complaint.

Given what we know from eyewitness accounts and video, the case for third-degree murder seems open-and-shut. It carries a sentencing maximum of 25 years, and that, along with a manslaughter charge (typically 3 to 5 years), would have me looking for a plea deal immediately were I the defendant. Unless there’s some kind of bombshell evidence—and I can’t even imagine what it would be—I don’t see how a judge or jury returns any verdict other than guilty with the third-degree murder charge.

The upgraded charge of second-degree murder might mollify critics since it carries a sentence of up to 40 years, but I’m having trouble with the part that says, “while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense.” Does that refer to the act of killing George Floyd? It doesn’t seem like it could because that’s the murder itself. With second-degree murder, we’re supposed to have another felony. Usually, what’s meant is unintentional killing in the midst of a felony like rape or burglary. So what other felony was the officer committing or attempting to commit?

Second-degree murder in Minnesota requires intent but does not involve premeditation. If that’s the sole standard—we set aside the “while committing a felony” bit above—it’s still not a slam-dunk case. Did the officer intend to kill Floyd? It’s obvious that he didn’t care if he did or not—again, that’s what makes the third-degree murder charge compelling. Intent seems like it might be a reach. And it would nice, you know, if we convicted someone on the basis of what they’re actually guilty of.

I’m not an attorney, so there’s a distinct possibility that I’m misreading this. And I certainly join the multitudes in wanting justice for George Floyd. My concern is that if you think the last few days’ protests have been troublesome for America, just imagine what it might look like if the officer in question is found, rightly or wrongly, “not guilty.”

UPDATE: I’ve read more about the case and about Minnesota criminal law. The officer can be charged with both 2nd and 3rd degree murder simultaneously. Second degree murder as a charge has two flavors if you will, only one of which requires commission of another felon. Additionally, because the officer maintained a knee on the Floyd’s neck for almost two minutes past an observable pulse, it’s reasonable to conclude that there was intent to kill. Intent can be formed in an instant. My fears are allayed. Throw the book at him.