Key Witness In Chauvin Trial To Invoke The Fifth Amendment And Refuse To Testify

One of the key witnesses in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd will not be testifying. Other than the officers themselves, the person with the greatest knowledge and observation of Floyd was his friend who was in the car with him, Morries Lester Hall.  Hall, 42, has given public interviews but has declared that he will not testify in fear that he might incriminate himself. He was listed as a witness for both the prosecution and the defense.  It is rare for someone who gave interviews to news organizations like CNN to refuse to testify in trial. Usually such witnesses decline to speak in any forum to maintain their silence.

Hall was with Floyd when he allegedly attempted to use a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods in Minneapolis. In the video shown at trial, Floyd appears high and the employee who flagged the fake bill also said on the stand that he appeared on drugs. The two men apparently were in the store previously and Hall may have tried to pass the fake money — raising the concern of self-incrimination.

The police also previously stated that Hall gave a false name to officers after Floyd’s death and then left Minneapolis. He was tracked down in Texas and arrested due to outstanding warrants for felony possession of a firearm, felony domestic assault, and felony drug possession. Floyd’s girlfriend also testified that the couple was addicted to drugs and that Hall would sell them drugs.

In a notice filed by Assistant Public Defender Adrienne Cousins, the court was informed that “Mr. Morries Lester Hall, through undersigned counsel, hereby provides notice to all parties in this matter that if called to testify he will invoke his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, counsel for Mr. Hall respectfully moves this court to quash the subpoena … and release Mr. Hall from any obligations therein.”

Hall has given multiple interviews, including describing himself in a Times interview  as a “key witness.”  He insisted “I’m a key witness to the cops murdering George Floyd, and they want to know my side. Whatever I’ve been through, it’s all over with now. It’s not about me.”

In invoking the Fifth Amendment, it is about him and his desire to avoid self-incrimination. Many judges would be miffed about a witness who is actively engaging in public interviews about what he saw while refusing to do so under oath. However, Hall clearly has a constitutional right to refuse to testify.

It is doubtful that Hall’s public statements could be used as trial. Such press statements are admissible for cross examination or other specific purposes. Without the availability of cross examination, using public comments would be unthinkable to most judges and lawyers.

In my view, the refusal to testify is more of a blow to the defense than the prosecution. As a criminal defense attorney, I would have viewed Hall as witness who could open up areas of drug use, criminal conduct, and relevant history to advance the defense narrative. He would have likely done more harm than good for the prosecution in my view given his own conduct and history.

96 thoughts on “Key Witness In Chauvin Trial To Invoke The Fifth Amendment And Refuse To Testify”

  1. ‘“So in your opinion, should that restraint have stopped once he was handcuffed and thrown on the ground?” Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked.

    ‘“Absolutely,” Zimmerman replied.

    ‘“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” said Lt. Richard Zimmerman.’

    — AP

    Zimmerman is “head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide division.”

    https://apnews.com/article/derek-chauvin-trial-day-5-live-updates-a9a6c37d5cbc8595e73d9e40d4c2fa56

    1. Then why did the MPD train its officers to use that very technique, in precisely that type of situation?

  2. (music to tune of Sam Stone)
    George Floyd…came home…
    To his gal to watch TV…
    After serving in the hunt for LSD.

    And the drugs are hat he ate…
    Would break a roller skate…
    And tamper down the heart of you and me.

    Oh. The morphine eased the pain…
    Like a thousand railroad trains…
    He never felt the force of Chauvins knee.
    Cause the drugs inside had killed his wimpy brain.

  3. 3:51 p.m.

    Policy requires rolling prone, restrained people into ‘recovery position,’ retired sergeant says

    By Hannah Knowles

    Minneapolis police policy requires officers to roll prone, restrained people into a “recovery position” on their side to avert potential breathing problems, testified David Pleoger, a recently retired Minneapolis police sergeant.

    “If you restrain somebody or leave them on their chest and stomach for too long, their breathing can become compromised,” said Pleoger, saying that the dangers of “positional asphyxia” were included in training and well-known in the police department. Pleoger said he has personally known about the condition for 10 or 15 years.

    Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay face down and handcuffed.

    Pleoger affirmed that the threat of “positional asphyxia” could stem from just a person’s body weight, without additional pressure.

    “So the danger is there without anyone pressing down on them,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said.

    Yes, Pleoger said.

    Body camera video captured Thomas Lane, who also faces criminal charges, asking Chauvin if they should turn Floyd on his side. Chauvin said it was not necessary.

    The state previewed Pleoger’s testimony in opening statements Monday. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that Pleoger would tell them “the force against Mr. Floyd should have ended as soon as they put him on the ground.”

    — Washington Post, today

  4. “Policy requires rolling prone, restrained people into ‘recovery position,’ retired sergeant says”

    By Hannah Knowles

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/04/01/derek-chauvin-trial-live-george-floyd/

    Excerpt at 3:51 p.m.

    Minneapolis police policy requires officers to roll prone, restrained people into a “recovery position” on their side to avert potential breathing problems, testified David Pleoger, a recently retired Minneapolis police sergeant.

    “If you restrain somebody or leave them on their chest and stomach for too long, their breathing can become compromised,” said Pleoger, saying that the dangers of “positional asphyxia” were included in training and well-known in the police department. Pleoger said he has personally known about the condition for 10 or 15 years.

    Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay face down and handcuffed.

    Pleoger affirmed that the threat of “positional asphyxia” could stem from just a person’s body weight, without additional pressure.

    “So the danger is there without anyone pressing down on them,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said.

    Yes, Pleoger said.

    Body camera video captured Thomas Lane, who also faces criminal charges, asking Chauvin if they should turn Floyd on his side. Chauvin said it was not necessary.

    The state previewed Pleoger’s testimony in opening statements Monday. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that Pleoger would tell them “the force against Mr. Floyd should have ended as soon as they put him on the ground.”

    — Washington Post

  5. Attorney Andrew Branca has been live blogging the trial and both his remarks and the comments on his site are interesting.

    In general those commenting do not see the state’s witnesses helping the prosecution case very much and, in some instances, the witnesses seem likely to benefit the defense. One of the medical people testified that it was common to see police sitting on or restraining subjects when they arrive and that it is common for people who have been unconscious to be combative when they first wake up. The fact that the medical people wanted to get Floyd away from the noisy crowd before focusing entirely on his care was important. The crowd and the hectoring, rookie firefighter did not seem to impress anyone favorably.

    So far, without much in the way of law or facts to support the prosecution they seem to be relying on a lot of tears.

    I saw something similar, but even more so, when George Zimmerman was on trial. The prosecution witnesses sounded more like defense witnesses than for the state. One time when I returned to viewing after running errands I thought, “What? Is the defense already presenting its case?” Nope. It was just another witness for the prosecution [defense].

    So far it looks like acquittal if law and evidence are followed and, more likely, hung jury when mob fears are factored in.

    Natch said that there was no evidence that Floyd was heavily involved in drugs. There is now.

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