Criminal Justice

Ryan Haynie | April 20, 2021

Chauvin trial showcases Americans’ civic illiteracy

Ryan Haynie

I admit I haven’t kept up with the Derek Chauvin trial in any great detail. After all, I’m not on his jury. What I think doesn’t matter. And unless you’re on his jury, your opinion doesn’t matter much, either. That’s how juries work. We pick 12 people with a driver’s license and they, and they alone, get to decide the case.

Enter Congresswoman Maxine Waters. On Saturday night, Rep. Waters told protesters they should get “more confrontational” should Chauvin be acquitted. Her comments were met with criticism from the judge presiding over Chauvin’s trial—even noting that her comments may give Chauvin grounds for appeal.

Meanwhile, CNN’s “Senior Legal Analyst” had this to say: “Defense begins the closing by defining reasonable doubt, not with why #DerekChauvin is innocent. Think about that.” Well, I’ve thought about it, and I don’t think she’s qualified to be a Senior Legal Analyst. Turns out, it’s not the defendant’s burden to prove innocence in a criminal trial. The burden belongs to the state to prove the defendant is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.” That’s the kind of legal knowledge you can get from “Law & Order College of Law.”

I wish that was the worst of it. It’s not. President Biden, a licensed attorney and former public defender, also decided to weigh in. Biden said he hopes the jury reaches the right verdict because, in his view, the evidence is overwhelming. Catch that? In his view the evidence is overwhelming. Why anyone should care about his view is beyond me. He’s not on the jury either.

So should Chauvin’s verdict come back “not guilty,” more riots are imminent. Why? Because people do not understand how government works. You see, we have this thing called the Constitution. And it provides certain protections to the criminally accused. Yes, even those people you don’t like. And that’s why this whole thing is so misguided.

What the rioters and protesters appear to misunderstand is this: What’s good for Chauvin is good for everyone else. If Chauvin is denied a fair trial, why does Julius Jones deserve a fair trial? If we can prosecute a cop in the court of public opinion, who else can we prosecute there? And let’s be honest. If we go down this road, it will be worse for the very people who are currently protesting. If our society decides to collectively do away with due process, those who receive the least due process will be ethnic and political minorities.

And in case conservatives are reading along and starting to feel self-righteous about all of this, you should be reminded that the due process you so desperately cling to on Chauvin’s behalf applies to everyone. Yes, even the people you don’t like. So the next time you want to reflexively quip “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime,” just remember how eager you were to carry water when the defendant was a cop.

I’m glad we live in a country where the mob doesn’t decide justice—yet. The right to a trial by jury ensured by Art. III and the Sixth Amendment has been under attack by judges and prosecutors for years—something I plan to write about in the near future. The last people who should be attacking it are those it's designed to protect—the people. The jury trial is, as Jefferson said, “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

Ryan Haynie Criminal Justice Reform Fellow

Ryan Haynie

Criminal Justice Reform Fellow

Ryan Haynie serves as the Criminal Justice Reform Fellow for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Prior to joining OCPA, he practiced law in Oklahoma City. His work included representing the criminally accused in state and federal courts. Ryan is active in the Federalist Society, serving as the Programming Director for the Oklahoma City Lawyer’s Chapter. He holds a B.B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He and his wife, Jaclyn, live in Oklahoma City with their three children.

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