The judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin said "abhorrent" comments from Congresswoman Maxine Waters could lead to the trial being overturned on appeal, throwing any verdict in the case of George Floyd’s death into doubt.
The Democratic Congresswoman travelled across state lines to tell protestors in Brooklyn Centre they needed to "get more confrontational" if Mr Chauvin is not convicted of first-degree murder, despite the court hearing only the lesser charges of unintentional murder and manslaughter.
Judge Peter Cahill said he was aware of the congresswoman saying anything less than a murder conviction was unacceptable, "and talk about being more confrontational", which could result in the entire trial being thrown out.
“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal, that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Mr Cahill said.
"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 the judicial branch and our function," he added.
Mr Cahill said while the failure of elected officials to be respectful to the court was "abhorrent", he did not think her comments prejudiced the jury enough to grant the defence’s motion for a mistrial.
"A Congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot," Mr Cahill said.
Defence attorney Eric Nelson had called for the mistrial, saying Ms Waters’ comments amounted to "threatening acts of violence" against the jury if they did not return a guilty verdict against Mr Chauvin.
The California lawmaker joined protesters on the weekend to say she was "hopeful" of murder conviction in the case of George Floyd, and that manslaughter would not be acceptable.
“And if we don’t [get the verdict], we cannot go away,” she said. “This is guilty for murder. I don’t know if it was in the first degree, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s first-degree murder,” she added.
Asked what protesters should do if they don’t get that verdict, Ms Waters said: “We 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."
Mr Nelson said it was reasonable to interpret the comments as an elected official from the United States congress making threats against the jury process.
"Threatening and intimidating the jury and demanding, if there’s not a guilty verdict, that there would be further problems," he said.
"I just don’t know how this jury can really be said to be free from the taint of this, and now that we have US representatives threatening acts of violence in relation to this specific case, it’s mind-boggling to me judge," he added.
While the judge would not grant a mistrial, he acknowledged Ms Waters comments set up the defence to appeal any guilty verdict on the basis that she may have intimidated members of the jury.
If a mistrial is declared, a defendant is not convicted but is not acquitted either. It could result in the entire trial beginning again with a new jury as the case is relitigated from the start.