Chauvin trial judge says Waters's comments could overturn a verdict on appeal

After final arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial were delivered, defense attorney Eric Nelson moved for a mistrial based in part because of statements made by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. In Minnesota on Saturday, Waters responded to reporters’ questions about what protesters should do, saying, “We've got to stay on the street, and we've got to get more active. We've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business.” Chauvin trial Judge Peter Cahill said those remarks could lead to a verdict being overturned on appeal. Before ultimately denying the mistrial request, Cahill slammed elected officials for talking about the case, “especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.”

Video Transcript

ERIC NELSON: The media attention is so profound and is such-- I mean, it is such a modern comparison. I mean, it's such a modern problem to have when, literally, I walk from this courtroom into the courtroom where I have been permitted to stay. During the course of this trial, I've received literally thousands and thousands and thousands of emails.

So much so that I don't even look at that particular email anymore. So-- but my phone gives me alerts on things that just happened. I mean, you can't avoid it. And it is so pervasive that it is-- I just don't know how this jury-- it can really be said to be that they are free from the taint of this.

And now that we have US representatives threatening acts of violence in relation to this specific case, it's mind boggling to me.

JUDGE PETER CAHILL: Well, I'll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned, but what's the State's position?

- Your Honor, the State's position, first and foremost, and this is a concern I raised at the beginning of the proceedings, you know, well into jury selection, is that we can't allow statements like this, vague statements, to be considered a part of the record on appeal. If there's a specific statement that a specific US Representative made, then there needs to be some sort of formal offer of proof with the exact quotes of the exact statement or some kind of a declaration.

And I'm sure Mr. Nelson can do that if he thinks that that's something that's appropriate. I don't know that this particular Representative made a specified threat of violence. I don't know what the context of the statement is. I also don't know what television shows Mr. Nelson is referring to in terms of any of this.

And so I just don't think that we can muddy the record with the vague allegations as to things that have happened without very specific evidence that's being offered before the court. As a practical matter, through the jury selection process, the court has provided instructions and has determined whether or not there are any outside influences. The law presumes that the jury follows the judge's instructions.

And the court has instructed the jury, instructed the jury today, that they're not to let any outside influences or public opinion sway their deliberation. And the law presumes that they would be capable of doing it. And so without any sort of specific offer of proof or information in the record, without any specific evidence that this particular jury was influenced in any particular way, I believe that the defendant's motion should be denied.

ERIC NELSON: And your Honor, I make my comments, I mean, in the context of this is all such an evolving situation. Obviously, I spend my weekend preparing for closing remarks. And I certainly can supplement the record with news articles. I can supplement the record with the story lines of the particular shows that were brought to my attention.

So there's-- I'm making it to note the record at this particular point. And I can certainly supplement.

JUDGE PETER CAHILL: Yeah, you can supplement the record with whatever media reports. I'm aware of the media reports. I'm aware that Congresswoman Waters was talking specifically about this trial and about the unacceptability of anything less than a murder conviction and talk about being confrontational. But you can submit the press articles about that.

This goes back to what I've been saying from the beginning. I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the Judicial Branch in our function. I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their Oath to the Constitution, to respect a coequal branch of government.

Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent, but I don't think it is prejudiced us with additional material that would prejudice this jury. They have been told not to watch the news. I trust they are following those instructions, and that there is not in any way prejudice to the defendant beyond the articles that were talking specifically about the facts of this case. A Congresswoman's opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot. Anyway, so motion for mistrial is denied.