The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been a high-profile and contentious one, raising concerns about protecting jurors from outside influence that might affect the verdict. Those concerns were elevated on Sunday following the unrest in the Minneapolis area after police shot and killed a man during a traffic stop in one of the city’s suburbs. Chauvin’s defense team expressed concern that shooting could influence the jury’s decision in the Chauvin case.
Doug N., a VERIFY viewer, asked what the rules are to sequester a jury, and whether the jury in the Chauvin trial is sequestered.
Is the jury in the Chauvin trial sequestered?
The jury is currently partially sequestered, meaning they can go home at night. The jurors will be fully sequestered once deliberation begins.
WHAT WE FOUND
Sequestering a jury means separating jurors from other people. That includes keeping the jury away from outside influence like media or current events that could have an effect on their verdict.
The jurors for Chauvin’s trial are partially sequestered. They park their cars at a secure location and are escorted into the courthouse through a private entrance. Once they are inside, they’re supervised at all times, even during breaks, but they are allowed to go home every night. That’s different from a full sequestration. Mark Osler, a professor at St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, explained what being fully sequestered might look like for a juror.
“Instead of going home at night, they're going to be staying in a hotel nearby, or maybe not nearby, if they seek greater security by creating more distance,” Osler said.
On Monday, Derek Chauvin’s lawyer asked the judge to fully sequester the jury in response to Minneapolis-area protests that followed the police shooting of a Black man.
“The emotional response that the case creates sets the stage for a jury to say, ‘I’m not going to vote not guilty because I’m concerned about the outcome,’” Chauvin’s lawyer argued to the judge.
But Judge Peter Cahill denied it.
“This is a totally different case... I think the sequestering of them would only aggravate that, ‘Oh, I heard about the civil unrest and now the judge is putting us into sequestration, there must be a greater threat to our security,’” Judge Cahill said.
The decision to sequester the jurors is ultimately at the judge’s discretion. According to Minnesota’s court rules, “From the time the jurors are sworn until they retire for deliberations, the court may… direct that they remain together continuously under the supervision of designated officers.”
That means the judge can sequester the jury at any time and even prevent them from going home in order to keep them isolated from outside influences. But what about in this case?
Osler explained that sequestering a jury is standard in such a high profile trial like this one. Osler says the court has reasons it would want to sequester the jury in this case.
“They want to protect them from harm and from influence… and the second reason is to prevent them from doing investigations on their own,” hesaid.
Judge Cahill said he doesn’t think a full sequester is necessary. He wrote in a November order, “Media reports during trial are likely to report on the evidence already presented and unlikely to unduly prejudice the jury… so full sequestration is not necessary.”
But during the jury selection, Judge Cahill made it clear to jurors that they shouldn’t discuss the trial or do outside research, and should avoid the news altogether.
“Try to avoid as much news coverage as possible,” Judge Cahill said during the jury selection in March. “I think I’ve said don’t watch any news about this case but given its prevalence and unexpected events like what we’ve just experienced, it's best to avoid all media coverage.”
That being said, he made it clear he could fully sequester jurors at any time he feels is necessary. Judge Cahill has already ordered them to be fully sequestered when deliberation begins until they reach a verdict.
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