Chauvin to be sentenced Friday for Floyd murder
Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, faces what is expected to at least be a 12-year prison term on Friday when he will be formally sentenced to at the Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
Proceedings are expected to begin at 1:30 p.m. CST and will be livestreamed.
Following a monthlong trial that was the highest-profile criminal case in recent memory, Chauvin in April was found guilty of all three criminal counts he was facing — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd’s killing was one of the catalysts for nationwide protests last summer demanding police reform and the end to systemic racism, and Chauvin’s trial was viewed by many as a referendum on policing in America.
Here are some things to know and watch for.
How sentencing works in Minnesota
Sentencing guidelines for federal crimes are uniform, but outside of that, states have the purview to set their own guidelines.
Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines take a couple of factors into consideration, including the defendant’s prior criminal history and the severity of the sentence.
Additionally, even though the former Minneapolis cop was convicted of three charges, since those charges all stemmed from the same action — killing Floyd — the length of the sentence will correlate to the guidelines for his most serious crime, unintentional second-degree murder.
Per state guidelines, the maximum sentence for unintentional murder in the second degree is 40 years, but because Chauvin has no previous criminal record, the presumptive sentence is 12.5 years.
The only other Minnesota cop ever to be convicted of murder was Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder in April 2019, received a sentence of that length.
Judges in the state, however, are given the discretion to sentence within a certain range that’s provided by the guidelines. In this case, that range is 10.67 years to 15 years.
That said, Chauvin’s sentencing is more complicated than that.
Prosecutors are allowed to ask the judge to go outside of this range and increase a defendant’s sentence because of aggravating factors, characteristics of the crime that warrant a harsher term.
“In order for a judge to increase the sentence, they first have to make findings that there are aggravating factors present that would support an aggravated sentence, Kelly Mitchell, executive director of the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School, told The Hill.
At the end of April, head prosecutor Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) filed a motion, citing five aggravating factors for which Chauvin’s sentence should be elongated.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill concurred with Ellison and his team in a ruling, agreeing with four of the five factors that prosecutors listed.
Cahill concluded that Chauvin abused his “position of trust and authority” as a police officer and displayed “particular cruelty” when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing him.
Now the judge has the “discretion to utilize that information to increase the sentence,” Mitchell, who is also the chair of the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, explained.
What legal experts are saying
The amount that a judge can increase a sentence does have limits, at least to a certain extent.
“The Supreme Court in Minnesota has said, you know, usually, you shouldn’t impose a sentence that’s more than double the presumptive sentence under the guidelines, but there might be rare instances where the case is severe enough that more than double the sentence would be appropriate,” Mitchell said.
“The judge would be well within his rights to impose that sentence, but he could theoretically get all the way up to the [statutory maximum] which is 40 years.”
At the beginning of the month, Ellison filed another motion with the court, this time asking that Cahill sentence Chauvin to 30 years, which is double the top of the presumptive range.
There’s a good chance that Chauvin’s sentence falls between 15 and 30 years, attorney Christopher E. Brown, an expert in excessive force cases, told The Hill.
Brown likened Cahill’s position to that of a mediator in federal court whose decision leaves both sides wanting more.
“If [Cahill] can explain [his decision] in a way that makes the community feel like he should have gotten more and Chauvin and his defense team, and the law enforcement community as a whole, feel like he should have gotten a little bit less,” Brown said, “then he might find that sweet spot where it’s going to allow the community and police departments across the country to move forward, and we can get some progress on these issues.”
Advocates and progressive lawmakers view the journey toward justice somewhat differently.
When the verdict was announced, they expressed happiness and relief, but also a refusal to let the conversation about police reform and racial justice stop.
“This verdict is a step,” first-term progressive Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said at the time. “It’s a popping of the lock, to be able to get to the place where we can open the door, and really start to do the work to save lives.”
When asked about the significance of Chauvin’s sentencing length, Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives, told The Hill that the need for real change still exists, but that what the Floyd family “equates to justice,” shouldn’t be dismissed going into Friday.
“Regardless of the length of the sentence, we’re still dealing with these systemic issues and it means that we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to what our community and people demand and deserve,” Enyia said.
Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, filed a motion with the court at the beginning of May, requesting a new trial claiming “prosecutorial and jury misconduct,” among other things.
A formal appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals has yet to be filed. For that reason, legal experts have predicted that Chauvin will say very little or nothing at the hearing on Friday, so as to not jeopardize any chances he has for a successful appeal.
Early in June, Nelson filed a motion countering the state’s request for an increased sentence for Chauvin. In it, the defense lawyer argued that the former police officer was the “product of a broken system.”
Instead of serving time in prison, Nelson asserted, Chauvin should instead be given probation, a move that law experts have labeled as baffling and borderline offensive.
Additionally, Chauvin still faces federal charges; he and the three other officers who were involved with Floyd’s death — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng — were indicted at the beginning of May on federal charges that allege the group violated Floyd’s civil rights.
Chauvin was also pinned with another federal civil rights count for using a neck restraint on a 14-year-old child back in 2017.
If convicted, he would serve the federal sentence concurrently to his state sentence.