Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murder for the death of George Floyd, was yesterday sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison.
The sentence, which was delivered by Judge Peter A Cahill of Hennepin County District Court, Minneapolis came more than a year after a widely shared cell phone video captured Mr Chauvin pressing his knee on the neck of Mr Floyd for more than nine minutes along a Minneapolis street.
Earlier this year, Mr Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, and the sentence followed emotional statements in court yesterday by members of Mr Floyd’s family, as well as by Mr Chauvin’s mother.
Mr Chauvin, who spoke only briefly during the hearing yesterday, offering condolences to the Floyd family, has been behind bars since his trial, which ended in April. Officials said he was being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety.
Before the sentencing hearing, Mr Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J Nelson, had pressed the court for leniency, asking for probation and time served.
Mr Nelson wrote in a memorandum that Mr Chauvin had not known that he was committing a crime when he tried to arrest Mr Floyd on a report that he had tried to use a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Mr Nelson also argued that placing Mr Chauvin in prison would make him a target of other inmates.
In seeking a 30-year prison sentence for Mr Floyd, prosecutors had argued that the former officer’s actions had “traumatised Mr Floyd’s family, the bystanders who watched Mr Floyd die, and the community. And his conduct shocked the nation’s conscience.”
The killing of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by Mr Chauvin, 45, who is white, led to a national reckoning over racial injustice in almost every aspect of American life. Calls emerged around the country to defund police budgets, remove statues of historical figures tied to racism and diversify predominantly white corporate boards.
The maximum sentence allowed under Minnesota law for second-degree murder, the most serious charge Mr Chauvin was convicted of, is 40 years. Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, though, a presumptive sentence for someone like Mr Chauvin with no criminal history is 12 years and six months. The jury, which deliberated for just over 10 hours following a six week trial, also convicted Mr Chauvin of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
In recent weeks, Judge Cahill had ruled that four so-called “aggravating factors” applied to the case, raising the prospect of a harsher sentence. The judge found that Mr Chauvin acted with particular cruelty; acted with the participation of three other individuals, who were fellow officers; abused his position of authority; and committed his crime in the presence of children, who witnessed the killing on a Minneapolis street corner on May 25, 2020.
Mr Chauvin’s conviction was a rare rebuke by the criminal justice system against a police officer who killed someone while on duty. Officers are often given wide latitude to use force, and juries have historically been reluctant to second guess them, especially when they make split-second decisions under dangerous circumstances.