Rep. Maxine Waters’s Comments Could Offer Chauvin Grounds for Appeal, Defense and Judge Suggest

Representative Maxine Waters said that demonstrators should “get more confrontational” if the jury doesn’t return a guilty verdict.,

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A defense lawyer and the judge suggest a congresswoman’s comments could offer grounds for appeal.

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April 19, 2021, 6:27 p.m. ET

April 19, 2021, 6:27 p.m. ET

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Judge Criticizes Congresswoman’s Comments on Verdict

Judge Peter A. Cahill criticized comments by Representative Maxine Waters that if the jury doesn’t return a guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, protesters should “get more confrontational.”

“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 U.S. representatives threatening acts of, of violence in relation to the specific case, it’s mind-boggling to me, Judge.” “Well, I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal. 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 talked 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 and 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 co-equal branch of government. Their failure to do so I think is abhorrent. But I don’t think it has 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 a 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.”

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Judge Peter A. Cahill criticized comments by Representative Maxine Waters that if the jury doesn’t return a guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, protesters should “get more confrontational.”CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Following closing arguments on Monday, both Derek Chauvin’s lawyer and Judge Peter A. Cahill suggested that a Democratic congresswoman’s comments about racial justice protesters, suggesting they should “get more confrontational” if the jury doesn’t return a guilty verdict, could affect the outcome of the former officer’s trial.

Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, argued that Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, had interfered with “the sanctity of the jury process” when she told reporters in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Saturday night that demonstrators would need to “stay on the street” and “get more active” if Mr. Chauvin was acquitted.

“An elected official, a United States congressperson, was making what I interpreted to be — what I think are reasonably interpreted to be — threats against the sanctity of the jury process,” Mr. Nelson said, calling for a mistrial because of Ms. Waters’s remarks.

Judge Cahill dismissed his motion but said that Ms. Waters may have inadvertently handed the defense a gift. “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” he said.

Still, the judge, who ended every day of testimony during the trial by telling jurors, “Have a good night and don’t watch the news,” added that he believes that the jurors have been following those instructions and would not be directly exposed to Ms. Waters’s comments. “A congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot,” he added.

The discussion in court of Ms. Waters’s comments came as Republicans in Washington were seeking to capitalize on them, accusing her of inciting violence — a similar charge to the one leveled against former President Donald J. Trump in his impeachment trial in February — and clamoring for Democratic congressional leaders to punish her.

Ms. Waters, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and a frequent target of rage from the right, stopped on Saturday to meet with demonstrators protesting police brutality after an officer killed Daunte Wright.

At one point, asked what protesters should do if no guilty verdict was reached in Mr. Chauvin’s trial, Ms. Waters said: “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.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, said he would introduce a resolution to censure the congresswoman if Democratic leaders refused to. The reaction was striking, after Mr. McCarthy declined this year to take any action against Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican who in the past had endorsed assassinating Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ms. Pelosi defended Ms. Waters on Monday, telling reporters that her comments had nothing to do with inciting violence.

“Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Ms. Pelosi said. “No, I don’t think she should apologize.”

Republicans have invoked the sharp-tongued Ms. Waters in the past to excuse extreme rhetoric within their party. Mr. Trump’s defense team repeatedly played video at his impeachment trial of her and other Democrats speaking in harsh terms, arguing that the former president’s bellicose words were no different than those on the other side.

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