Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill handed down a historic sentence for the death of George Floyd noting the particular cruelty of the crime. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on bystander video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty nine seconds, reigniting a national debate around policing and racial justice. On Friday, June 25 Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
The Significance of This Sentence
Former police officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction and sentence made him only the second police officer in Minnesota history to be jailed for an on-duty murder and one of fewer than a dozen officers nationwide. The case garnered national attention with many wondering if this would be a landmark case leading to change.
Chauvin, who was fired after the killing and convicted by a jury in April on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, had faced up to 40 years in prison.
While the trial delivered unprecedented video evidence and police testimony for the prosecution, there were still questions around how that could translate at sentencing. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, ultimately said he based the 22.5 year sentence on the law and not public opinion. The sentence was determined based on sentencing guidelines with additional time for the four established aggravating factors.
The judge found Chauvin had acted with particular cruelty, abused his authority as an officer of the law, committed the crime while children were present and committed the crime as a group with the active help of at least three other people. The 22.5 year sentence is on the very high end of time generally given for unintentional crimes. Sentences of 30 years, 40 years or more, are generally guideline sentences for people convicted of crimes committed intentionally. Since Chauvin was convicted of unintentional crimes, legal observers thought a robust appeal might be launched if the length of the sentence resembled the time given for intentional crimes. Under this 22.5 year sentence, Chauvin would not be eligible for parole until 2035 or 2036, at which time he will be close to 60 years old.
Judge Peter A. Cahill, after delivering Chauvin’s sentence, issued a 22-page memorandum in which he wrote about his decision, “Part of the mission of the Minneapolis Police Department is to give citizens ‘voice and respect.’ But Mr. Chauvin had instead treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor.”
While this moment has been significant for the country and the criminal justice system, for many it feels like only the end of the beginning. Chauvin still faces Federal charges. The other officers in this case also face trials. And, a number of other high profile cases are still in question across the country. Like many landmark cases, we have yet to see the full impact of this case on our state and country.