The Judicial System Stands Trial

The conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd points to a shift towards equity within the judicial system

Derek+Chauvin+and+his+lawyer+during+closing+statements.%0AStill+image%2C+via+Court+TV

Derek Chauvin and his lawyer during closing statements. Still image, via Court TV

On April 29, the jury in the case of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin came out with a verdict: guilty of all charges for the murder of George Floyd, a crime that sparked the largest mass protests in American history. With all of America watching, holding their breath and praying for the verdict to turn out how they wanted, this is no doubt more than an everyday conviction; it is an amalgamated symbol of widespread racial movements, political calls for reform of policing and, of course, our nation’s very legal system.

The verdict is, in every way, the outcome I and most other Americans wanted. What Derek Chauvin did is inexcusable, and while the defense made its attempt to present its case, the prosecution used all of the medical evidence, stories from witnesses and video proof to convict Chauvin of the crimes he clearly committed. So arguing whether or not the verdict was good or bad is frankly a waste of time, if I’m being honest. Instead, let’s direct our attention to what can be learned from this verdict and what comes next.

First, this verdict has hopefully restored the faith in our criminal justice system that our nation so desperately needs. I know this is coming from the mouth of the biggest legal nerd you’d ever meet, but the courts of America are our nation’s great equalizer. Defendants and victims are meant to be treated equally before the law, through how they are understood and heard in the courtroom. The priority of the court is one thing: justice. What justice means is up to you, but I personally find it to be synonymous with the truth and restraint. 

The rule of law has been a founding principle of this nation and it is something that I cling onto in our current political climate of division and violence. Whether it be violence and rioting as a result of racial disparities, or storming the nation’s Capitol due to disbelief in election results and the judicial system, a lack of faith in the law and our judiciary has led to terrible outcomes and unnecessary death and destruction. With that, our judicial branch has finally taken a step in the right direction: It has shown that its original purpose of justice and equality before the law still rings true as the jury returns with the guilty verdict. The law is far from perfect, as any human-made system is, yet it made its first step in finally proving itself last week. It may just be one verdict, but it can be the sign of a new era in our judicial system; one that truly realizes the goal it’s slowly been crawling to reach true equality before the law. 

Crowds emerged outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis as Derek Chauvin was tried for the murder of George Floyd. Photo by Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

That being said, some fears still loom over what comes next after Chauvin’s guilty verdict. The judge presiding over the case told Chauvin himself that statements made by Rep. Maxine Waters before the verdict may be grounds for appeal to the defense. If one is not familiar, Maxine Waters made statements encouraging supporters to “get more confrontational” in case of an undesirable verdict in the trial, which was interpreted by many to be encouraging more rioting and disruption to the legal system. From a legal standpoint, this may unfortunately be true: Such influence on a trial could sway a jury to rule one way over the other, and while I believe the verdict would have been guilty no matter what, there are no exceptions under the law; Chauvin has every right to appeal and can argue to overturn the conviction if he sees fit.

Even if this did occur, and even if Chauvin is retried, I have faith that a proper and just verdict will be delivered at a new trial. Our legal system has its flaws; it has acquitted the officers who attacked Rodney King and the murderer of Trayvon Martin, and it convicts innocent individuals every day of victimless crimes and divides families. At the same time, however, our courts stand as the most rational of the three branches: The partisan politics of Congress and the White House are absent as the truth is the only concern to the judiciary. If Chauvin appeals, and is in fact retried, I know our judicial system will follow through and bring George Floyd’s family the justice they deserve. After all, when the only thing the jury is searching for is the truth, the proper verdict in this trial becomes extremely and obviously clear.