MINNEAPOLIS – For the past two months, Derek Chauvin has been held in solitary confinement as lawyers and investigators busy the next phase of his case: determining the length of his sentence for the murder of George Floyd.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Chauvin, 45, will return to the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis where he was sentenced in April to know his fate. Prosecutors are asking that Mr. Chauvin face 30 years in prison, while his defense team has requested probation. The maximum sentence permitted by law is 40 years.
The sentencing hearing is expected to last at least an hour and include statements from members of Mr. Floyd’s family, who may speak about his life and how his death affected them. The gruesome murder of Mr. Floyd as Mr. Chauvin, a former police officer, held one knee on his neck for more than nine minutes was captured on cell phone video and drew millions of Americans to the streets to protest the racial injustice and police brutality towards black people.
Mr. Chauvin, who is white, did not testify during his six-week trial in March and April; he spoke only once, outside of the presence of the jury, to invoke his right not to take a position on the Fifth Amendment.
Mr Chauvin will be allowed to speak at his sentencing hearing on Friday, but legal experts have said he is unlikely to choose to do so. Any remark, they said, could be factored into future federal court proceedings, where Mr. Chauvin faces additional charges, and could complicate an appeal of his state conviction.
According to Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, the alleged sentence for a person like Mr. Chauvin, who had no criminal history, is 12.5 years for second degree murder, the most serious of the three charges for which he was convicted of. After deliberating for about 10 hours, a jury also found him guilty of third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
But the judge who will decide Mr. Chauvin’s sentence, Peter A. Cahill, has already ruled that four “aggravating factors” apply in the case, which would allow Mr. Cahill to hand down a sentence longer than that. as prescribed in the Minnesota guidelines. The judge concluded that Mr. Chauvin had acted with particular cruelty; acted with the participation of three other people, who were fellow officers; abused his position of authority; and committed his crime in the presence of children, who witnessed the Minneapolis street corner murder on May 25, 2020.
Mr. Chauvin’s conviction was a rare reprimand from the criminal justice system on a police officer who killed someone while on duty. Officers often have wide latitude in using force, and juries have always been reluctant to guess them, especially when making split-second decisions under dangerous circumstances.
According to research by Philip M. Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, 11 police officers, including Mr. Chauvin, have been convicted of murder for murders on duty since 2005. The lightest sentence has been of just under seven years in prison, while the hardest was 40 years. The average sentence was 21.7 years.
Most legal experts said they expected Judge Cahill to hand down a sentence closer to the 30 years sought by the prosecution than the much shorter benchmark sentence of 12.5 years. With good behavior, Mr. Chauvin would most likely serve two-thirds of any prison sentence and then the rest on parole.
“I hope Judge Cahill sentences Derek Chauvin to the maximum prison term,” lawyer and civil rights activist Nekima Levy Armstrong recently said at a public forum hosted by the Legal Rights Center, a Twin Cities nonprofit that advocates for the poor and advocates for criminal justice reform. “But I think he’ll probably hit somewhere in the middle, between the lowest and highest possible penalty.”
In a memorandum calling for a 30-year sentence, the prosecution team wrote: “Such a sentence would take due account of the profound impact of the accused’s conduct on the victim, the victim’s family and the community. The accused brutally murdered Mr. Floyd, abusing the authority conferred by his badge. His actions traumatized Mr. Floyd’s family, the passers-by who saw Mr. Floyd die, and the community. And his conduct shocked the conscience of the nation.
Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, requested leniency, asking that Mr. Chauvin be granted probation and a sentence corresponding to the time he has already served behind bars.
In a note to the judge, Mr. Nelson wrote that the life expectancy of police officers was lower than that of the general population, and said Mr. Chauvin had been diagnosed with heart damage.
Mr. Nelson also argued that placing Mr. Chauvin in jail would make him a target for other inmates, pointing to the fact that Mr. Chauvin has already been placed in solitary confinement for his own safety. Mr. Nelson wrote that Mr. Chauvin was the product of a “broken system”, although he offered no explanation.
The lawyer’s note offered no sense of regret for what had happened. “Mr. Chauvin didn’t even know he was committing a crime,” Mr. Nelson wrote. “In fact, in his mind, he was simply doing his rightful duty in helping other officers stop George Floyd.”