The George Floyd case has produced massive publicity afar and abreast in the country and the world. The question becomes whether any of the defendants, in this case, can receive a fair trial—free of dissemination of potentially prejudicial material that creates a reasonable likelihood that a defendant cannot receive a fair trial. A defendant does not have to show actual prejudice.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that “only pretrial publicity that is shown to affect the minds of specific jurors involved in the case in a way that is prejudicial to the defendant requires a change of venue.”
The fact that a case generates widespread publicity does not require a trial court to grant a change of venue. What matters is whether the publicity is of a type that is prejudicial to the defendant and whether it affects the minds of the specific jurors involved in the case. It must be shown that a real possibility exists that the jury will not render an impartial or unbiased verdict.
Factual news reports are insufficient to establish that pretrial publicity was prejudicial. Opinions or implications of the defendant’s guilt are required.
In this case, the extraordinary publicity has included the dissemination of pretrial opinions of responsible public authorities intimating the guilt of the defendant. Arguably, this includes comments from Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General, and Amy Klobuchar, one of Minnesota’s United States Senators. Indeed, social media has been ripe with claims of the defendant’s guilt. The primary venue of such dissemination is Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
Derek Chauvin cannot receive a fair trial in Hennepin (Minneapolis) or Ramsey (St. Paul) Counties.
Derek Chauvin cannot receive a fair trial in any of these counties. Given this case’s political climate, some judges may subject the parties to jury selection where potential jurors could be questioned about possible preconceived notions about the defendant’s possible guilt. However, this is clearly one of those cases where the trial should be removed from Hennepin County. Superior County (Duluth) would be a better venue.