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‘Spark of life’: jury to listen to from George Floyd’s brother in quirk of Minnesota legislation By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin


By Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Earlier than resting their case within the homicide trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, prosecutors are planning to indicate the jury images of George Floyd as a youthful man and query one among Floyd’s brothers, who is anticipated to recall Floyd’s shut relationship together with his mom.

The photographs and reminiscences usually are not supposed to shed any gentle on the central query earlier than the jury: whether or not Chauvin, who’s white, dedicated a criminal offense throughout his lethal arrest of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for some 9 minutes. Chauvin has pleaded not responsible to homicide and manslaughter costs.

As a substitute they’re a part of a restricted kind of proof allowed in prison trials in Minnesota meant to indicate {that a} crime sufferer was not a faceless particular person however was “imbued with the spark of life,” because the Minnesota Supreme Court docket put it in a 1985 ruling.

Protection attorneys and a few authorized specialists have lengthy argued that there’s good motive why Minnesota is exclusive amongst each U.S. states and the federal courts system in permitting testimony that has no bearing on whether or not a defendant is responsible. In most states, such accounts from a sufferer’s family members are often heard solely after a conviction, throughout a sentencing listening to.

“The ‘spark of life’ doctrine is controversial as a result of it violates the foundational precept of relevance in proof legislation,” mentioned Ted Sampsell-Jones, a legislation professor at Mitchell Hamline College of Regulation in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Within the 1985 case from which the doctrine and its memorable title are derived, a defendant convicted of killing a police officer mentioned the prosecution unfairly prejudiced the jury towards him by introducing proof in regards to the officer’s life and household. The Minnesota Supreme Court docket, the state’s high court docket, dominated that such proof is allowed so long as it doesn’t invoke undue sympathy or inflame the jury’s passions.

“You do not need to go too far the place the jury is simply deciding issues on uncooked emotion,” mentioned David Schultz, a College of Minnesota legislation professor.

Schultz mentioned he is aware of of no different state with an analogous observe.

Hennepin County District Choose Peter Cahill, presiding over Chauvin’s trial, cautioned prosecutors that if Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, describes Floyd as a “light large,” for instance, it may result in his being grilled by Chauvin’s lawyer.

“Mr. Floyd on this case is entitled to have the jury notice he was a human being, he was beloved, he had a household,” the decide mentioned in a listening to earlier than the jury was seated and commenced listening to testimony on March 29. “As quickly as you begin entering into propensity for violence or propensity for peacefulness, then we’re entering into character proof.”

The decide has denied efforts by Chauvin’s attorneys to confess proof about Floyd’s prior prison convictions, together with a violent theft from 2007, saying they’re irrelevant to the case. However Cahill mentioned that might change if Chauvin’s attorneys argue that equity calls for they need to be allowed to cross look at character claims made by Floyd’s brother.

Jurors have already heard from one particular person near Floyd: Courteney Ross, who was Floyd’s girlfriend, testified via tears about their romantic walks and his love for his daughters. Ross additionally mentioned she and Floyd struggled with opioid habit.

The county health worker dominated Floyd’s loss of life a murder by the hands of police. The health worker additionally discovered fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s blood. Chauvin’s attorneys argue the reason for loss of life might have been a drug overdose.

Matthew Frank, a prosecutor, assured the decide that Floyd’s brother would restrict his testimony to recalling Floyd’s childhood in Texas, the place he was a promising basketball participant, in addition to his aspirations and among the struggles he confronted in life.

Chuck Ramsay, a Minneapolis protection legal professional who has seen “spark of life” proof used towards his purchasers, known as the doctrine unfair.

“It’s damning to the protection,” Ramsay mentioned. “The road between undue sympathy for the deceased and prosecutorial misconduct is a skinny one.”

Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorneys representing the Floyd household, mentioned he hopes testimony by Floyd’s brother would present the sufferer as a “one who would gentle up a room with a smile.”

“So typically in these trials the place the sufferer is a marginalized minority, no one works to humanize that particular person,” Crump mentioned. “He was beloved and that there was one thing taken from us, taken from society, taken from the world.”