George Floyd part 2: Why do charges change?
One of the biggest points of confusion is how criminal charges can change over the course of a case. In the George Floyd case, the police officer was first charged with a lesser crime and then the charges were upgraded to second degree murder. In the most recent update, the state's attorney is looking to see if first degree murder charges should be brought.
What is the process and how and why do charges change over the course of a case?
In Massachusetts, charges may be upgraded for different reasons.
New evidence is revealed
Investigation is a large part of a criminal case. In murder cases the investigation is extensive and it will usually lead to a large amount of discovery. A critical part of any murder investigation is the forensic evidence gathered and their test results. Depending on the results of the tests it may lead to more severe charges.
Extrinsic evidence may also lead to more severe charges. Investigations usually start at the murder scene, but then will generally sprawl out from there. The police will interview witnesses, look at electronic evidence, and try to obtain an admission from the defendant. If evidence reveals any premeditation from the defendant, charges can then be upgraded to a first degree murder charge.
Finding more evidence can also lead to more criminal charges. If there is evidence of the defendant attempting to hide evidence or intimidation witnesses, the defendant can then face additional charges.
2. The status of a victim
In other cases, the status of a victim may change during the criminal process. A defendant could be charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon with the victims injuries landing them in the hospital. If the victim dies from the injuries, the defendant can then be charged with murder.
The defendant can still be charged with murder even if the victim did not die directly from the wounds, but from other complications. So even if the majority of people would have recovered, but this victim has a pre-existing condition that made the hospital visit deadly, the defendant can still be charged with murder.
Even if the victim didn't have a pre-existing condition, but contracted COVID-19 at the hospital, the defendant can still be charged with murder. The legal theory reasons that but for the victim being injured by the defendant, the victim wouldn't have been in the hospital and contract COVID-19. The issue would be that the prosecutor would need to prove the victim contracted COVID-19 at the hospital and not elsewhere.
Charges do change in criminal cases. The most common reason for charges to be upgraded are a result of the investigation. There can be also more novel and less common ways that charges are changed such as the victim dying during the criminal process.