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Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, will return to court on Friday where he could be sentenced for up to 30 years in prison.
In April, Chauvin was convicted of all three counts against him in Floyd’s death: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He will only be sentenced for the most serious charge of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence for Chauvin, but a defense attorney is asking that he be sentenced to probation and time already served, according to court documents filed earlier this month.
Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, with no criminal record he faces a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years on that count. Cahill can sentence him to as little as 10 years and eight months or as much as 15 years and stay within the guideline range.
However, Judge Peter Cahill previously ruled there were aggravating factors in Floyd’s death. That gives him the discretion to sentence Chauvin above the range recommended by state guidelines, which top out at 15 years.
Cahill said that four aggravating factors are present in the case. He agreed that Chauvin:
- Treated Floyd with “particular cruelty”
- Abused his position of authority as a police officer
- Committed his crime as part of a group of three or more people
- Pinned Floyd down in the presence of children.
Prosecutors claim that even one of those factors would warrant the higher sentence. They also said Chauvin’s actions were egregious and a sentence of 30 years would “properly account for the profound impact of Defendant’s conduct on the victim, the victim’s family, and the community.” Adding, that Chauvin’s actions “shocked the Nation’s conscience.”
“No sentence can undo Mr. Floyd’s death, and no sentence can undo the trauma Defendant’s actions have inflicted. But the sentence the Court imposes must show that no one is above the law, and no one is below it,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant’s sentence must hold him fully accountable for his reprehensible conduct.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson cited Chauvin’s age, lack of a criminal record, and support from family and friends in requesting a sentence of probation and time served. He said Chauvin, 45, was the product of a “broken” system.
Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, said it’s not unusual for attorneys to make these kinds of requests as a sort of “opening offer.” He said there is zero chance that Chauvin will get probation, and prosecutors are also unlikely to get the 30 years they are requesting.
He said Nelson’s attempts to paint Chauvin as a good fit for probation and a law-abiding citizen will probably face “ferocious push-back from the government,” given Chauvin is also charged with tax evasion. He added that Nelson’s reference to Chauvin being the product of a broken system is “fascinating — most Americans seem to think that Chauvin embodies what is broken about our system of criminal justice.”
Nelson wrote that while this incident painted Chauvin as a “dangerous man,” he has served his community as an officer and has a loving family and close friends. He also disputed the court’s finding that aggravating factors existed, saying there is no evidence that Chauvin’s assault on Floyd included gratuitous infliction of pain or cruelty.
“Here, Mr. Chauvin was unaware that he was even committing a crime. In fact, in his mind, he was simply performing his lawful duty in assisting other officers in the arrest of George Floyd,” Nelson wrote, adding that Chauvin’s offense can be best described as an error made in good faith based on his experience and the training he received — and was not the intentional commission of a crime.
“In spite of the notoriety surrounding this case, the Court must look to the facts. They all point to the single most important fact: Mr. Chauvin did not intend to cause George Floyd’s death. He believed he was doing his job,” he wrote.
No matter what sentence Chauvin gets, in Minnesota it’s presumed that a defendant with good behavior will serve two-thirds of the penalty in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.
Chauvin has also been indicted on federal charges alleging he violated Floyd’s civil rights, as well as the civil rights of a 14-year-old he restrained in a 2017 arrest. The three other former officers involved in Floyd’s death were also charged with federal civil rights violations; they await trial in state court on aiding and abetting counts.
A federal trial date has not been set. Federal prosecutors are asking for more time to prepare for trial, saying the case is complex because of the sheer volume of evidence and the separate but coordinated state and federal investigations.