Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin learns of his sentence Friday for murder in the death of George Floyd, closing a chapter in a case that sparked global outrage and a reckoning over racial disparities in America.
Chauvin, 45, faces decades in prison, and several legal experts predict a sentence of 20 to 25 years. Although Chauvin is expected to appeal, he also faces trial on federal civil rights charges, along with three other fired officers who have yet to have their state trials.
The concrete barricades, barbed wire, and National Guard patrols that covered the county courthouse for Chauvin’s three-week trial are gone, and so is most of the tension in the city as he awaited a verdict in April. Still, it is recognized that Chauvin’s sentencing will be another big step forward for a city that has been on edge since Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
“Between the incident, the video, the riots, the trial, this is the pinnacle,” said Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney who has followed Chauvin’s case closely. “The verdict was huge too, but this is where justice comes in.”
Chauvin was convicted of second degree manslaughter, third degree manslaughter and second degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine and a half minutes as the black man said he couldn’t breathe and went limp. A bystander’s video of Floyd’s arrest on suspicion of approving a counterfeit $ 20 bill sparked protests around the world and a nationwide reckoning over race and police brutality.
Under Minnesota statutes, Chauvin will be sentenced for only the most serious charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. But case law dictates that a 30-year sentence would be the maximum practical sentence that Judge Peter Cahill could impose without risk of being overturned on appeal.
Prosecutors asked for 30 years, saying Chauvin’s actions were heinous and “shook the conscience of the nation.” Defense attorney Eric Nelson requested parole, saying that Chauvin was the product of a “broken” system and “believed he was doing his job.”
Cahill has already discovered that the aggravating factors in Floyd’s death warrant go beyond the 12 1/2 year sentence recommended by state sentencing guidelines. The judge found that Chauvin abused his position of authority, treated Floyd with particular cruelty, and that the crime was seen by several children. He also wrote that Chauvin knew that Floyd’s restraint was dangerous.
“The prolonged use of this technique was particularly egregious in that George Floyd made it clear that he could not breathe and expressed the opinion that he was dying as a result of restraint by officers,” Cahill wrote last month.
Attorneys for both sides are expected to present brief arguments on Friday, and the victims or relatives of the victims can make statements. No member of the family has publicly said they will speak.
Chauvin may also make a statement, but it is unclear if he will. Experts say it could be difficult for Chauvin to speak without getting involved in the pending federal case accusing him of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
Chauvin decided not to testify at his trial. The only explanation audiences have heard from him came from body camera footage in which he told a viewer at the scene: “We have to control this guy because he’s a sizeable guy … and it looks like he’s probably in something. “
Several experts said they doubted Chauvin would take a chance and speak up, but Brandt thought he would. He said Chauvin could say a few words without getting into legal trouble.
“I think it’s your chance to tell the world, ‘I didn’t mean to kill him,'” Brandt said. “If I were him, I think I would want to try to let people know that I am not a monster.”
Several people interviewed in Minneapolis days before Chauvin’s sentencing said they wanted to see a harsh sentence.
Thirty years “doesn’t seem like long enough to me,” said Andrew Harer, a retail worker who is white. “It would be fine if he was in jail for the rest of his life.”
Joseph Allen, 31, who is black, said he believes Chauvin should be given “at least” 30 years, and said he would prefer a life sentence. He cited nearly 20 complaints filed against the now-fired officer during his career.
Allen said he hopes other police officers can learn “not to do what Derek Chauvin did.”
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and civil rights activist, called for Chauvin to be sentenced “to the full extent of the law.” He called Floyd’s death “a modern lynching” and predicted community outrage if Chauvin is sentenced lightly.
When asked if he would like to hear Chauvin speak, Levy Armstrong said: “For me, as a black woman living in this community, there is really nothing that he can say that will ease the pain and trauma that he caused … I think that if he spoke it would be insincere and could cause further trauma.
Regardless of the sentence Chauvin receives, he is likely to only serve two-thirds behind bars, bragging about good behavior. The rest would be on supervised release.
He has been detained since his conviction in the state’s only maximum security prison, in Oak Park Heights. The former officer is kept away from the general population for his safety, in a 10-by-10-foot cell, with meals brought to his room. You are allowed to exercise alone for one hour a day.
It is unclear if Chauvin will remain there. State prison officials said the decision would not be made until after Cahill’s formal sentencing order.
Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest are awaiting trial in federal court on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. No date has been set for the trial.
The other three officers are also scheduled to stand trial in March on state charges of complicity in both the murder and manslaughter.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism