A recognized constitutional expert, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, is warning that the slanted reporting by the media could be responsible for some of the rioting that is expected to follow the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial in Minneapolis.
He’s the white former police officer on trial on multiple counts for the death in 2020 of George Floyd, a black. Floyd was being arrested, and was subjected to a restraint procedure that had him on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for a time.
Activists have rioted in many cities across the nation over the last year in protest of Floyd’s death, starting out in Minneapolis where hundreds of millions of dollars in damages were inflicted on mostly small business owners.
The jury got the case on Monday, and on Tuesday, while deliberations continued, Turley commented on the riots that are expected to develop following the verdict, whatever it is.
Officials in the Twin Cities area already have declared an emergency, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has been at protests encouraging more “confrontations.”
Turley charged that the “line between the press and the prosecution” disappeared in the case.
He noted he previously warned the media coverage “was dangerously incomplete and slanted. The concern was that the public was not being informed of strong defense arguments that would be used at the trial.”
He said, “The danger is that any acquittal or hung jury would then come as an even greater surprise — contributing to more rioting and violence.”
On the final day, when closing arguments were delivered, he said, the problem was “only magnified.
“Those concerns were evident within minutes of the defense starting its closing argument. Defense attorney Eric Nelson did a remarkably good job in defending his client. However, CNN’s senior legal analyst, Laura Coates declared ‘Defense begins the closing by defining reasonable doubt, not with why #DerekChauvin is innocent. Think about that.’”
He said, “Many of us did ‘think about that,’ particularly those of us who are criminal defense lawyers. My guess is that over 90 percent of defense arguments begin with defining reasonable doubt since that it is the framing standard for [a] jury decision. It is the virtual mantra of the defense. We start by reminding the jury of its burden, particularly after a prosecutor has given a more fluid understanding of that standard. The last thing that you want to do as a criminal defense attorney is to suggest that the jury should focus on whether a defendant is innocent. The burden is on the prosecutor to prove that he is guilty.”
He said, “The defendant is presumed innocent . . . at least outside of CNN.”
He also cited claims by Yamiche Alcindor of PBS, who “went on attack the minute the defense rose to make its closing argument. Alcindor declared: ‘Chauvin’s lawyer said it flies in the face of common sense to say Floyd’s death was not caused at least in part by his underlying conditions or drug use. This argument is in direct contradiction to the prosecution’s case which says believe your eyes, Chauvin’s knee killed Floyd.’
“The statement is so bizarre that it is breathtaking. Alcindor appears aggrieved that the defense had the temerity to directly contradict the prosecution on the question of guilt,” Turley explained.
He noted, “The coverage was striking in the glowing accounts of the prosecution’s closing arguments as opposed to the criticism of the defense. More importantly, the coverage shows little concern over the rights of criminal defendants or appreciation for the position of defense counsel.”
He said the same circumstances developed in the media’s coverage of the Trump administration, “when legal experts adopted ridiculously broad interpretations of criminal provisions in a blind obsession to find any way to charge Donald Trump or his family.”
That bias, he said, comes with a cost.
“The failure to inform the public of the countervailing arguments in trials like the trial of Eric Chauvin fuels our social divisions and the ongoing violence in our cities,” he warned.
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