An underreported result of the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin is upending American ideals of justice
The sanctity of American justice is predicated on the right to a fair trial. Trial by jury was one of the most important American principles at its founding, guaranteed in the body of the Constitution in Article III, Section 2, and in the Sixth Amendment. It was instituted as a protection of individuals against abuses by the government.
Earlier this year, police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin’s attorneys had hired highly experienced and respected retired forensic pathologist Dr. David Fowler as an expert witness. Fowler testified that Floyd died of “a sudden cardiac arrhythmia due to his [underlying] heart disease … during his restraint and subdual by the police” and not because of lack of oxygen. Despite Fowler’s testimony, the jury convicted Chauvin of murder.
Many trials end in decisions that seem wrong, and you may or may not agree with the conviction of Chauvin. But whether we agree with any particular decision or not, the American system of justice requires us to abide by it. Otherwise, the system falls apart.
The whittling away of the American justice system in this instance is not the government’s attempt to change a jury’s verdict; the government got the conviction that it wanted. In a dangerous precedent, the government is now attempting to ensure that future cases are more likely to result in the verdict it wants by making it clear that witnesses with whom it disagrees will be punished, ostracized, and have their careers destroyed.
Fowler, Chauvin’s expert witness, was Maryland’s chief medical examiner from 2002 to 2019. According to his resume on the website of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (pdf), Fowler was trained in forensic pathology at the University of Cape Town. He was an adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland in the departments of pediatrics and pathology, and on the faculty at the National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Systems. Fowler is a past president of the National Association of Medical Examiners. He has authored numerous book chapters, scientific journal articles, and formal presentations. He currently serves as the National Association of Medical Examiners representative to the Forensic Science Standards Board.
By Bob Zeidman