MINNEAPOLIS (Court TV) – Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is due in court Friday to find out his punishment for the murder of George Floyd.
A Hennepin County jury convicted Chauvin in April of three charges in Floyd’s death: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The verdicts were celebrated in the streets of Minneapolis and around the world, marking the culmination of a closely watched trial that was widely regarded as a referendum on racial inequities in the criminal justice system.
Chauvin’s bond was revoked following the verdict. He is being held in Minnesota’s sole maximum-security prison based on concerns for his safety.
Because all three convictions arose from what Minnesota law calls a “single behavioral incident,” Judge Peter Cahill will issue a sentence only on the top charge of unintentional second-degree murder. Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, the harshest penalty for unintentional second-degree murder is 40 years in state custody. But for someone with no criminal record, like Chauvin, it carries a presumptive sentence of 12.5 years and a discretionary range of 10 to 15 years.
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Cahill will hear evidence and arguments from both sides on whether to depart upward or downward from the guidelines. Victim impact statements are expected on behalf of Floyd and the defendant as part of the evidence. Chauvin also has the option to speak on his behalf. Cahill may also rule on defense post-verdict motions for a new trial and for a hearing to probe allegations of juror misconduct.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s office requested a sentence of 30 years based on four aggravating sentencing factors:
- Chauvin abused a position of authority
- Floyd was treated with particular cruelty
- Chauvin committed the crime with the active participation of at least three others (former officers and co-defendants Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and Alexander Kueng)
- The crime was committed in the presence of multiple children (the four bystander witnesses who were under 18 when they witnessed Floyd’s death)
Cahill endorsed the four factors in a June ruling, saying prosecutors proved them at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. The length of time Chauvin kept Floyd pinned to the ground under his knee was “particularly cruel” and an “egregious abuse” of Chauvin’s authority as a peace officer, the judge said.
“The slow death of George Floyd occurring over approximately six minutes of his positional asphyxia was particularly cruel in that Mr. Floyd was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die but during which the Defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas,” Cahill wrote in an order issued in May.
Chauvin’s defense argues in court documents that “substantial and compelling circumstances” warrant a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines.
Defense lawyer Eric Nelson asked Cahill to impose a probationary sentence that limits Chauvin’s incarceration to time served — or less time than the guidelines call for — based on Chauvin’s lack of criminal history and amenability to probation.
Nelson urged the judge to consider the “unusual” facts of the case and described Chauvin as a product of a “broken” system. Nelson claims “the single most important fact” supported by the evidence is that Chauvin did not intend to cause Floyd’s death and believed he was doing his job.
In legal circles, the case drew attention to the controversial nuances of Minnesota’s second-degree felony murder statute. The legal doctrine gives prosecutors discretion to charge anyone accused of a felony with murder if death occurs during the felony, regardless of whether death was the intended outcome.
According to data cited in an article in the May 2021 Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality, defendants of color are more likely to face harsher outcomes under the felony-murder doctrine than white defendants, who are more likely to benefit from plea deals and leniency in sentencing.
Court TV will provide live coverage of the sentencing starting Friday at 9 am ET.
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