The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Hennepin County District Court must reconsider a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who will stand trial on March 8 for killing George Floyd. The Hennepin County District Court originally dismissed the charge against Chauvin for “lack of probable cause” and later denied the state’s motion to reinstate the charge.
On February 1, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in the precedential case of State v. Noor that “a conviction for third-degree murder … may be sustained even if the death-causing act was directed at a single person.” Three days after the opinion was issued, the state prosecutor filed a motion to reinstate the charge, which the district court denied, stating that “the opinion ‘does not become final and have precedential effect until the deadline for granting review by the Minnesota Supreme Court has expired.'”
The Court of Appeals has ruled “that its published opinions are binding on this court and on the district courts,” based on the premise of stare decisis. The Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure further “indicate that district courts must ‘stand by things decided’ by this court until a different decision is made by the supreme court.” The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, ruling that even though Noor may still be appealed, the appellate court’s precedential ruling is binding on lower courts.
Chauvin currently faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter for the death of Floyd. The district court will reconsider the motion to reinstate the third-degree murder charge in light of the Court of Appeals’ ruling in Noor that one may be found guilty of third-degree murder when the death-causing act was directed towards an individual.