The claim: Biden speaking in support of Chauvin conviction was illegal, “jury tampering”
A post shared on Facebook claims President Joe Biden’s comments about getting the “right verdict” in the Derek Chauvin trial were illegal and contributed to “jury tampering.”
On April 20, a jury found Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, guilty of three charges: second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the nation and around the world as video footage showed Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, ultimately killing him.
After the jury was sequestered and deliberating, Biden told reporters he had called Floyd’s family to offer the family comfort as the nation awaited a verdict. Biden said he was “praying for the right verdict.”
“I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now, not hearing me say that,” Biden said.
The Facebook post, from several hours before the verdict was announced, took exception.
“The President of the United States, the Chief Law Enforcement officer of our nation, joins Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi in jury tampering, THIS IS ILLEGAL!!,” the post by the Nashville Tea Party reads.
Fact check: Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts but has yet to be sentenced
“The President had to be keenly aware of the possibility that any statement he made might unduly influence this politically charged trial,” Nashville Tea Party President Ben Cunningham told USA TODAY.
The post included an image of a headline from the New York Post reading, “President Biden says he’s ‘praying’ that jurors convict Derek Chauvin.”
Biden comments came after jury was sequestered
The jury was sequestered to make a decision on April 19, which means all jurors were in a hotel with marshals providing security — and without access to the news.
During the deliberations, which lasted until the afternoon of the next day, the 12 jurors were not allowed to discuss the case with anyone else, or with each other outside of the deliberation room.
When reporters asked, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki didn’t elaborate on what Biden considered “the right verdict.” Psaki said the president was “certainly not looking to influence” the jury’s decision.
Fact check: Arrest video, autopsy contradict claim that George Floyd’s death was staged
On April 19, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, called on officials to stop publicly commenting on the case after Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., encouraged protesters in Minnesota on April 17 to get “more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted.
“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,” Cahill said.
While Biden’s comments were highly unusual from a president, they were not illegal as claimed on Facebook.
Fact check: No, LeBron James didn’t say ‘a girl can’t even stab her friends anymore’
David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, said Biden’s comments were protected free speech. He compared it to any other individual saying they hoped for a guilty or innocent verdict.
The controversy, however, does call to mind trial comments from another sitting president. In August 1970, during the trial of serial killer Charles Manson, President Richard Nixon told reporters Manson was “guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason.” The defense sought a mistrial as Nixon attempted to walk back his remarks, but the motion was denied.
Biden’s comments came later in the process — barely. The question is whether it amounted to jury tampering, as alleged by the Facebook post.
What is jury tampering?
There isn’t a specific statute in Minnesota law on jury tampering. There is a statute on witness tampering that, while it doesn’t directly mention jurors, the two concepts are so similar that jury tampering can be treated as witness tampering when analyzing situations like Biden’s comments, Schultz said.
Witness and jury tampering are illegal under Minnesota law. The sentence for witness tampering can be up to five years in prison or up to $10,000 in fines. The sentence for jury tampering, considered an aggravated violation of Minnesota’s anti-harassment statute, carries up to a five-year sentence, a fine up to $10,000, or both.
It’s defined as the attempt to influence or coerce a juror or a witness who is testifying in trial, or expected to testify through means that aren’t the evidence presented in court as part of the case.
To be considered tampering, there must be specific proof the person, in this case Biden, had the intent to influence the jurors by threatening or having the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate them “because of their performance of official duties in connection” to the trial, according to Minnesota Statutes §609.749.
Offering bribes and making threats to someone’s life are some clear examples of tampering, according to Schultz.
Biden’s comments don’t constitute jury tampering, Schultz said, because they were “so vague” and didn’t show clear intent on Biden’s to influence the jurors.
“Maybe [Biden] was praying for the jury to acquit … no one knows really what it means. It’s a general statement,” Schultz said.
Because Biden’s comments came once the jury was already sequestered, and the president didn’t specifically tell jurors how to vote, Schultz said, there is “no way” it could be construed as jury tampering.
Fact check: Minnesota police association covering Chauvin’s defense, not Trump
It’s highly unlikely the jurors heard Biden’s comments given security measures taken during regular sequestering, according to Chris Dearborn, a criminal defense attorney and law professor at Suffolk University Law School.
“If, however, somebody did find out during the deliberations, then in spite of how well-intentioned and correct President Biden’s sentiments were, there would be a plausible argument that it might have prejudiced the jury,” said Dearborn.
If the defense thinks Biden’s comments affected the jury’s decision, they could file an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to overturn the verdict, according to Schultz. However, that most likely wouldn’t stop or delay Chauvin’s sentencing, Dearborn said.
Fact check: Daunte Wright’s outstanding warrant unrelated to misaddressed court documents
“I would question the timing of (Biden) making that choice,” Dearborn told USA TODAY, “While a jury is deliberating or before a verdict has come back, I don’t think it was a smart or necessary choice if it ran even the slightest risk of impacting the proceedings and leading to a potentially legitimate appellate issue.”
Our rating: False
The claim that Biden’s comments were illegal and tampered with the jury’s decision are FALSE, based on our research. At the time Biden said he was “praying for the right verdict,” the jurors had already been sequestered in a hotel, which makes it very unlikely that the members of the jury heard the comments, and let it affect their decision. The president’s comments also do not rise to the level of being jury tampering under Minnesota law, an expert said.
Our fact-check sources:
- The New York Post, April 20, 2021, President Biden says he’s ‘praying’ that jurors convict Derek Chauvin
- USA TODAY, April 20, 2021, Joe Biden calls George Floyd’s family, says he’s praying for them as nation awaits verdict in Derek Chauvin trial
- USA TODAY, April 20, 2021, Biden on Floyd trial: Praying for ‘right verdict’
- USA TODAY, April 15, 2021, What happens next in the Derek Chauvin trial: Breaking down jury deliberations and when jurors will reach a verdict
- USA TODAY, April 20, 2021, WH: Biden ‘not looking to influence’ Chauvin trial
- USA TODAY, April 19, 2021, Chauvin trial judge: Rep. Maxine Waters’ comments may give defense grounds to appeal
- Interview with David Dearborn, professor at Suffolk University Law School
- The Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2019, How Charles Manson almost won a mistrial, courtesy of Richard Nixon
- Minnesota Legislature: Office of the Revisor of Statutes, accessed April 25, 2021, 2020 Minnesota Statutes, 609.749 Harassment; Stalking; Penalties, Subdivisions 2 & 3
- Minnesota Legislature: Office of the Revisor of Statutes, accessed April 25, 2021, 2020 Minnesota Statutes, 609.498 Tampering with Witness, Subdivision 1
- Minnesota House Research, July 2019, Crime Victim Laws in Minnesota
- Interview with David Schultz, professor at University of Minnesota Law School
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
Source: Read Full Article