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In the Derek Chauvin trial, Morries Hall, a key witness for the prosecution has plead the 5th because he worries his testimony could result in charges against himself.

My question is, is the jury allowed to consider that plea as evidence Chauvin is innocent? The logic being "It doesn't make sense for Hall to plead the 5th if Chauvin killed Floyd? The only thing he could be hiding is his own involvement in Floyd's death."

Obviously they can't use his plea as evidence in his own trial, but he's not the one on trial now.

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  • Interesting question. I don't know the answer, but I'd expect the answer is yes. Juries aren't allowed to infer the defendant's guilt based on his invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights, but that's because the Fifth Amendment prohibits compelling a defendant to testify "against himself." Because the evidence would not be construed against the defendant, I'd expect a court to allow it.
    – bdb484
    Apr 7 at 6:29
  • @bdb484 I understand what you are saying, but technically Hall is not the defendant here. The question is "can the jury draw conclusions from Hall's invocation of the fifth against the defendant (Chauvin)". Apr 7 at 16:26
  • @DJClayworth Yes, that's what I was trying to say. My instinct is that a jury may make factual inferences when a witness pleads the Fifth, whether to the benefit or detriment of the defendant.
    – bdb484
    Apr 7 at 20:30
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The jury should draw correct conclusions from what they hear in court. If they draw incorrect conclusions, I don't think that would be illegal, but it would mean that justice might not be done.

If a juror says "It doesn't make sense for Hall to plead the 5th if Chauvin killed Floyd? The only thing he could be hiding is his own involvement in Floyd's death." that would be an incorrect conclusion. There are many other things that Hall might not want to be known, for example involvement in drug dealing.

There are also many witnesses who didn't see Hall anywhere near Floyd. Even if the conclusion is right, for example if Hall supplied Floyd with drugs, Hall might have thought that this is "involvement in Floyd's death", but that would just be his opinion, and wouldn't change anything about Chauvin's guilt.

So drawing the conclusion that Chauvin must be innocent would be totally unjustified. But there is no law against the jury making innocent mistakes.

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Part of Chauvin's defense seems to be that Floyd died from drug-related complications during the use of force in his arrest. The prosecution says that Chauvin's inappropriate use of force caused the death.

  • From the news reports, both Hall and Floyd had some drug history. Hall might be refusing to implicate himself in some other drug-related crime by his testimony. Notably, the defense seems to want to ask if Hall supplied Floyd with drugs.
  • Even if Floyd was under drugs, that does not mean Chauvin's use of force was appropriate.

What I conclude from Hall pleading the Fifth is that Hall knows something about how Floyd got his drugs, but then that there were drugs in Floyd's system is no big surprise at this stage and I cannot see how the source of the drugs affects Chauvin's guilt or innocence either way.

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    Also: Egshell skull doctrine: it doesn't matter if any condition made the normal amount of force too much, it was too much.
    – Trish
    Apr 7 at 6:57
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    I don't think this answers the question. The question wasn't what you conclude from the plea, it was about what the jury is allowed to infer from the plea. Apr 7 at 13:13
  • @DJClayworth, there is some point to your objection, but the OP presented the part he put in quotes as a logical conclusion which it isn't.
    – o.m.
    Apr 7 at 16:03
  • @Trish That doesn't necessarily apply here, especially since it involves a cop performing his duties. It is common as a matter of torts, but depends on the jurisdiction for criminal matters. And a cop usually has a "reasonable force" standard to defend themselves with, which is not usually taken to account for the unknowable frailties (or even actual injuries) of the subject but rather just what any "reasonable" cop would likely have done in the same situation. May 7 at 6:50
  • The jury can draw the conclusion that Hall could have made a statement that would incriminate Hall, and didn't want to make the statement. If Hall was in court, they wouldn't be allowed to use this to infer that Hall was guilty of anything. But since Hall was only a witness, there seems to be no logical reason why this would say anything about Chauvin's guilt or innocence.
    – gnasher729
    May 7 at 10:25

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