Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence for the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death, but a defense attorney is asking that Derek Chauvin be sentenced to probation and time already served, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced June 25 following his conviction on murder and manslaughter charges. 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.
Prosecutors 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.” They said 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.”
Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for about 9 ½ minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe and went motionless. Floyd’s death, captured on widely seen bystander video, set off demonstrations around the United States and beyond as protesters demanded changes in policing.
Even though Chauvin was found guilty of three counts, he’ll only be sentenced on the most serious one — second-degree murder. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, with no criminal record he faces a presumptive sentence of 12 ½ 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.
But prosecutors asked for what is known as an upward departure, saying there were several aggravating factors that warranted a higher sentence. Cahill agreed, finding 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, and that he pinned Floyd down in the presence of children.
Prosecutors said that even one of those factors would warrant the higher sentence.
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.
Nelson is also seeking a new trial for Chauvin — which is a fairly routine request after a conviction. He argued extensive pretrial publicity tainted the jury pool and denied Chauvin his right to a fair trial. He also said Cahill also abused his authority when he declined defense requests to move the trial out of Minneapolis and sequester the jury. And, he said the state committed prosecutorial misconduct.
Nelson is also asking for a hearing to investigate whether there was juror misconduct. Nelson alleged that an alternate juror who made public comments indicated she felt pressured to render a guilty verdict, and another juror who deliberated did not follow jury instructions and was not candid during jury selection. That juror, Brandon Mitchell, did not mention that he had participated in an Aug. 28 march in Washington, D.C., to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Prosecutors have a week to submit a written response to those arguments.
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.