Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defence attorney, has argued for only probation, while prosecutors urged a 30-year prison sentence
“The former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd will face sentencing on Friday two months after he was convicted in a trial watched by millions around the world.
Derek Chauvin faces a maximum of 40 years in prison after he placed Floyd in a fatal knee-to-neck restraint for nine minutes and 29 seconds and was found guilty on all three counts of second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter.
Floyd’s death, on 25 May 2020, ignited a wave of racial justice protest around the United States and internationally, with Chauvin’s subsequent trial seen as a litmus test for police accountability.
Legal observers say the maximum sentence is unlikely and prosecutors have argued in filings for a 30-year custodial sentence. Meanwhile, Chauvin’s defence attorney, Eric Nelson, has argued his client should receive only probation, an outcome that is also highly unlikely.
Chauvin will be sentenced for only the most serious conviction, second-degree murder, and could under Minnesota law serve only two-thirds of his sentence in prison for “good behavior” with the rest of his time under supervised release.
Chauvin, who chose not to testify in his own defense at trial, will be given an opportunity to speak on his own behalf before sentencing. Victim impact statements from the Floyd family are also expected to be read before the court.
“It is our hope that we receive a just sentence and nothing that’s mediocre,” Jacari Harris, executive director of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation and a close friend of the Floyd family, told the Guardian. “George Floyd could be here today. He should be, but he’s not. He could not go home on the day that knee was on his neck, so just as George Floyd couldn’t go home, Derek Chauvin can’t go home.”
He added: “It’s about the sentence but it’s also about the work that we’re doing [at the foundation] to bring true accountability, to continue the legacy of George Floyd. Sentencing is one day, but we have thousands and thousands after where we have to continue to hold police officers accountable and bring about swift needed change within our communities.”
State sentencing guidance for an offender convicted of second-degree murder but with no criminal history is 12.5 years. But the ultimate decision lies with Hennepin county judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s trial earlier this year, and has spent 14 years on the court.
Cahill has sided with prosecutors in motions filed after the guilty verdict, which argue there are four aggravating factors that should be considered in Chauvin’s sentencing. This means it is likely the former officer will face a sentence above the recommended length.
These aggravating factors are that Chauvin “abused a position of trust and authority”; he “acted with particular cruelty”; he committed the murder “in concert with three other individuals”, namely the three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest who have been charged but not yet faced trial; and, finally, he carried out the act “in the presence of children”.
As commentators scramble to predict the highly awaited sentencing, NBC News published an analysis of Cahill’s sentencing in second-degree murder cases, for which he has sentenced six people to prison. The analysis found the sentences received ranged between 12.5 and 40 years.
The judge, who has served as both a county prosecutor and public defender as well as private practice attorney, was handpicked to preside over the Chauvin trial by the chief Hennepin district judge, Toddrick Barnette.
Commenting on his selection before the start of proceedings, Barnette told the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “This moment is not too big for him. He will make thoughtful legal decisions based upon the law, even if the decisions are unpopular.”