Olson: After the Derek Chauvin verdict

By Walter Olson

Politico invited me to be part of a mini‐ symposium about the jury’s verdict finding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all three counts (second‐degree unintentional murder, third‐degree murder and second‐degree manslaughter) in the death of George Floyd.

Here’s what I wrote:

Police are not above the law. And yet it’s hard to get juries to convict an officer.

Social respect for the job often sways the outcome toward acquittal where the facts are ambiguous. They weren’t ambiguous here, thanks to the video. “I feared for my safety” often works as a defense. Derek Chauvin couldn’t make use of it. Prosecutors and judges, no matter their integrity, thread a narrow path because they have to work with cops every day.

The eyes of the world were fixed on this courtroom. Now the question is what’s going to happen after the eyes of the world move on.

Prosecution of rogue cops has a role to play, but it isn’t enough. Around much of the country, attempts to separate bad officers from the force are hobbled by union power, reluctance to testify against other officers, and barriers to discipline like the “Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights” laws that prevail in more than a dozen states, including Minnesota.

What about civil lawsuits by surviving families against cities or individual officers? In all but the most egregious cases, these tend to be restricted by doctrines of “qualified immunity,” which often shelter both police and other government officials from being held liable for harms they commit under color of law.

Those are judge‐made rules, not found in the Constitution, and it’s quite right that they’re being rethought across the country.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies and is known for his writing on law, public policy, and regulation.

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