Since Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder, the three other former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s killing have almost no chance of walking free, criminal justice experts told Insider.
Former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng are expected to go to trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
“I’m almost 100% confident that likelihood of guilty pleas in all three cases has just gone up by a lot,” Mike Lawlor, associate professor at the University of New Haven, told Insider. “I think that the certainty of the conviction is extremely high and the possible penalties are also extremely high under the circumstances.”
Lawlor believes the only circumstance in which the other three officers wouldn’t take a plea deal is where the defense and prosecution can’t come to an agreement over sentencing. For example; Chauvin’s planned plea deal fell through due to his stipulation that he not face federal civil rights charges. That was denied by then attorney General Bill Barr who had jurisdiction over federal matters.
Thou, Lane, and Kueng are better off taking a plea deal than testing their luck at trial. But it’s an open question whether prosecutors are willing to offer the three men any options.
Thao had been a full-time officer at the department since 2012. Kueng and Lane were rookies who Chauvin was training at the time. It’s likely that as rookies Kueng and Lane would receive a more lenient sentence than Chauvin.
Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, an associate professor of sociology at Brown University, mused that without plea options, the three could argue the inability to have a fair trial and ask that it be moved out of state as Chauvin’s conviction would make it harder to find an impartial jury. They could use that argument as the basis for requesting a bench trial.
“These officers are facing the potential reality that even if they move this case, this is going to be a really hard to seat a jury that supposedly doesn’t have an opinion on this case,” she said.
The former officers may have a better chance of acquittal if they request a bench trial, pointing to the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago.
In that case three officers where accused of covering up the shooting by fellow officer Jason Van Dyke, but where found not guilty. Van Dyke was convicted.
A bench trial is a trial by judge, as opposed to a trial by jury. The term applies most appropriately to any administrative hearing in relation to a summary offense to distinguish the type of trial. Many legal systems (Roman, Islamic) use bench trials for most or all cases or for certain types of cases.