Ruling paves way for longer sentence in George Floyd’s death

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A Minnesota judge has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the death of George Floyd, paving the way for a longer sentence for Derek Chauvin, according to an order made public Wednesday.

In his ruling, Judge Peter Cahill found that Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer when he restrained Floyd last year, and that he treated Floyd with particular cruelty.

Still even with the aggravating factors, legal experts have said, Chauvin is unlikely to get more than 30 years when he is sentenced June 25.

Chauvin, who is white, 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 9 1/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe and went motionless.

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Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin address Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill during motions before the court Thursday, April 15, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Even though he was found guilty of three counts, under Minnesota statutes he’ll only be sentenced on the most serious one — second-degree murder. Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, he would have faced a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years on that count, and Cahill could have sentenced him to as little as 10 years and eight months or as much as 15 years and still stayed within the guideline range.

But prosecutors asked for what is known as an upward departure — arguing that Floyd was particularly vulnerable with his hands cuffed behind his back as he was face-down on the ground. They noted that Chauvin held his position even after Floyd became unresponsive and officers knew he had no pulse.

Prosecutors also said Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty during the lengthy restraint, saying Chauvin inflicted gratuitous pain and caused psychological distress to Floyd and to bystanders. They also said Chauvin 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 — including a 9-year-old girl who testified at trial that watching the restraint made her “sad and kind of mad.”

Cahill agreed with all but one of the prosecutors’ arguments. He said prosecutors did not prove that Floyd was particularly vulnerable.

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ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 20: People march through the streets after the verdict was announced for Derek Chauvin on April 20, 2021 in Atlanta, United States. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

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Defense attorney Eric Nelson disagreed with the state, saying that prosecutors did not prove that there were aggravating factors. He said Chauvin had legal authority to assist in Floyd’s arrest and was authorized under law to use reasonable force. He also said Floyd was not particularly vulnerable, saying he was a large man who was struggling with officers.

Nelson also argued Floyd was not treated with particular cruelty, saying that there is no evidence that the assault perpetrated by Chauvin involved gratuitous pain that’s not usually associated with second-degree murder.

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. If convicted on those charges, which were unsealed Friday, a federal sentence would be served at the same time as Chauvin’s state sentence. 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.

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