Judge finds “aggravating factors” allow for longer sentence for Derek Chauvin

A judge in the Derek Chauvin case has found “aggravating factors” exist that would allow for a longer sentence than Minnesota sentencing guidelines suggest. The fired officer will face sentencing next month for his murder and manslaughter convictions in the murder of George Floyd. 

Chauvin was convicted April 21 of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. A jury agreed with prosecutors who said Chauvin caused Floyd’s death when he pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes during a May 2020 arrest in Minneapolis. 

Chauvin will only be sentenced on the top count, second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. But for someone with no criminal history such as Chauvin, Minnesota sentencing guidelines suggest a range of just over 10 and a half years to 15 years in prison. 

In order to sentence Chauvin to more time, a jury — or a judge, in this case — must find that “aggravating factors” exist. In a ruling Tuesday, Judge Peter Cahill agreed with prosecutors that four such factors exist — that Chauvin committed a crime in front of a child, that Chauvin acted with particular cruelty, that he acted as part of a group, and that he abused his position of trust and authority as a police officer.

Cahill, however, did not find that Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed, a fifth aggravating factor that prosecutors had sought.

Cahill found Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd was “an egregious abuse of authority” because “the prolonged maneuver was employed after George Floyd had already been handcuffed  and continued for more than four and a half minutes after Mr. Floyd had ceased talking and had become unresponsive.”

Cahill also found that Chauvin acted with particular cruelty because he killed Floyd slowly despite Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was “begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die” but Chauvin “objectively remained indifferent to Floyd’s pleas.”

Cahill found that four children who were standing nearby, the youngest of whom was nine years old, “witnessed the last moments of Floyd’s life.”

Prosecutors are expected to make a formal recommendation on the amount of time they are seeking in the coming weeks. Cahill will also consider recommendations from the defense team, along with a pre-sentencing investigation report prepared by the Department of Corrections. The “PSI” will include an assessment of Chauvin to identify his risk of re-offending and other factors the judge can consider as he weighs a sentence, including “the defendant’s individual characteristics, circumstances, needs, potentialities, criminal record and social history, the circumstances of the offense and the harm caused by it to others and to the community.” The document is not expected to be made public.

The report will also include “victim impact statements,” or statements written by victims to express the impact the crime has had on their lives. The judge will also weigh those statements in determining a sentence.

Cahill will hand down the sentence to Chauvin during the sentencing hearing in June. Typically, victims are allowed the chance to read their statements in court, if they choose. 

In Minnesota, inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars and the remaining third of their sentence on supervised release. 

Chauvin and the three other officers in Floyd’s death are also facing federal civil rights charges after they were indicted by a grand jury this month. It’s not clear when they may face a federal trial. Chauvin is also seeking a new trial in the state case.

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