Was George Floyd Guilty?

Was George Floyd Guilty? June 22, 2020

In the wake of the videotaped May 25th police killing of George Floyd, the whole world shifted.

Protests broke out all over the world. Cities across America were forced to rethink how police function. Minneapolis, where the killing occurred, has vowed to disband the department that created the conditions that killed him. Four officers have been charged in his murder.

But was he guilty?

One of the most common themes emerging from the counter protesters and conservative commentators is the idea that the police uphold the law, and that those who break it do so at their own peril. This is not only true of George Floyd, but of nearly every high-profile killing, especially of a person of color, in living memory. It is one of the cornerstones of the “Thin Blue Line” movement. And right now, it’s everywhere on the conservative side of my Facebook feed.

So I took a look at Minnesota law, as well as federal Supreme Court rulings, to sort out Floyd’s guilt or innocence once and for all…

The allegations…

There have been three allegations made against Floyd in the press. He appeared drunk. He paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit bill. He resisted arrest by falling down instead of getting into a police car. On these three issues, Minnesota law is clear.

1) Drunkenness is not a crime in Minnesota.

Section 340A.902 of the 2019 Minnesota Statutes clearly states, “no person may be charged with or convicted of the offense of drunkenness or public drunkenness.” Obviously, Floyd cannot be guilty of a crime that does not exist.

2) There is no evidence of intent to defraud.

Section 609.632.3 of the 2019 Minnesota Statutes states, “Whoever, with intent to defraud, utters […] United States currency […] having reason to know that the […] currency […] is counterfeited […] is guilty of offering counterfeited currency […]” Among all the press reports and witness statements and officer statements and recordings—not one person alleges that anyone so much as bothered to ask Floyd if he even knew the bill was counterfeit.

3) Floyd was not resisting at the time he was killed.

Section 609.50.1(2) of the 2019 Minnesota Statutes does provide a penalty for “whoever intentionally […] obstructs, resists, or interferes with a peace officer while the officer is engaged in the performance of official duties.” There is no evidence that Floyd fell down on purpose, but even if he had, he was passively laying on the ground, in handcuffs, verbalizing his intent to cooperate at the time he was killed.

Minnesota has a strong presumption of innocence.

Every state carries the presumption that someone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. This was mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court more than one hundred twenty five years ago in Coffin v. United States (1895).  In Minnesota, though, this is doubly true, as Section 611.02 of the 2019 Minnesota Statutes states, “every defendant in a criminal action is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved and, in case of a reasonable doubt, is entitled to acquittal…”

Not only has Floyd not been found guilty at trial of any of the three popular allegations against him, but also he was never even charged.

You cannot try a dead man in absentia

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Crosby v. United States (1993) that federal law “prohibits the trial in absentia of a defendant who is not present at the beginning of trial.” Rule 26.03 of the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure also prohibits trying a defendant in absentia, except under a few very specific exceptions, none of which is “the defendant was killed by police prior to trial.”

There is no guilt without due process

The Minnesota Constitution, Article I, Section 7 is clear that, “no person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law […] nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”  This is also true under the 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.

. . .

Was George Floyd guilty?

Not by the facts, and not by the law. And even if he were, there is nothing in Minnesota or federal law giving the Minneapolis Police authority to try, convict, sentence and punish him, nor is there anything making any of the allegations a capital crime.

So why do so many people point out his supposed criminality?

I’ll let you decide.

About Jim Coppoc
Jim Coppoc attends United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, where he sits on the Committee Advocating Racial Justice. He has been pulled over three times by the Minneapolis Police over the years, and all three times they let him go. That is how privilege works. You can read more about the author here.

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