Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin will be sentenced Friday following his convictions for 2nd Degree Murder, 2nd Degree Manslaughter, and 3rd Degree Manslaughter. Chauvin’s sentencing comes just a month after he was found guilty in a Hennepin County, Minnesota courtroom for George Floyd’s death.
Opposing Sentencing Requests
NBC News has reported that Jerry Blackwell, the prosecutor in the Chauvin case, has asked Judge Cahill for a sentence of 30 years, while Chauvin’s attorney asked for a sentence of probation. The two sentencing requests are clearly at odds with one another. It’ll be interesting to see which direction Judge Cahill leans when he hands down Chauvin’s sentence.
Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor, said of the case in a statement to NBC News:
“The defense request for probation is so far outside the guidelines and would be such a deviation from the way these cases are normally handled that I think it’s a zero percent chance that would be the outcome, regardless of who the judge was, frankly.”
I tend to agree.
During his career, Judge Cahill has acted as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge. He understands as well as anyone what both Floyd’s family and Chauvin are going through emotionally in the days leading up to the sentencing. Additionally, I believe that Judge Cahill is set up for perceived failure in this case, regardless of which way he leans for the sentencing. If he gives Chauvin probation as requested by the defense, then he’ll be accused of giving preferential treatment to Chauvin because of his former status as an officer. In that case, it’s not unlikely that Judge Cahill’s personal safety would be at risk. If, on the other hand, he hammers Chauvin and gives him 30-plus years he’ll be accused of bowing down to political pressure rather than sentencing the defendant based solely on the facts of the case and his previous criminal history.
Chauvin Had No Criminal History
Here’s one fact we know: Chauvin has no past criminal record. Regardless of his status as a law enforcement officer at the time of Floyd’s death, a defendant’s prior criminal history almost always comes into play during his or her sentencing. It isn’t rare for someone who has committed even a violent offense to receive a much lighter sentence if it was his or her first criminal offense. On the contrary, someone who is a repeat offender will routinely receive significantly higher sentences because of their past actions. And frankly, that’s how it should be. Time will tell whether Chauvin is allotted such a consideration.
Judge Cahill’s Previously Issued Sentences and the Fate of Chauvin
The second factor to consider is Judge Cahill’s sentences on previous similar cases he’s adjudicated. According to NBC News, Judge Cahill has sentenced six people convicted of 2nd Degree Murder during his tenure. Those sentences ranged in time from 12.5 to 40 years in prison.
As recently as January 2020, Judge Cahill sentenced a man who had pleaded guilty to, “unintentional second-degree murder for beating his mother to death and to first-degree assault for violently attacking his father” to 15 years in prison for the death of his mother. The man received an additional seven years for the serious assault on his father. Those sentences were set to be served consecutively. This means the defendant will serve 22 years.
If Judge Cahill stays consistent with his most recent sentencing, then Chauvin can expect a sentence of 10-20 years. If he strays from the norm in an effort to make Chauvin an example, then Chauvin could very well get 40 years or more in prison with little recourse for rebuttal after the fact.
Hard Time to Be Served Concurrently or Consecutively?
Forty, 25, and 10. That is the maximum number of years Chauvin can be given for each offense he was convicted of. The sentence for each could obviously be lower if so desired by Judge Cahill, but the maximum sentence Chauvin can receive (assuming no additional aggravating factors are considered) is 75 years. That number can be a bit misleading, though. In the American criminal justice system, sentences can be served either concurrently or consecutively. Concurrently means that each sentence will be served at the same time. Consecutively means that each sentence will begin to be served when the lesser sentence ends.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that Chauvin is given 30 years for the Murder 2nd, 15 years for Manslaughter 2nd, and five years for Manslaughter 3rd. If Judge Cahill orders Chauvin to serve the time consecutively, then Chauvin would spend 50 years in prison (which would almost certainly be a life — and a death — sentence for Chauvin). If, however, Judge Cahill allows Chauvin to serve the time concurrently, then, in the example above, Chauvin would serve a total of 30 years for all three charges combined.
In my experience as a former police officer, most sentences I’ve seen levied were set to be served concurrently. A sentence of 30 years would no doubt be terrible news for Chauvin, but it does at least allow him the potential to leave prison before he dies. A sentence of 70 years would clearly be a life sentence for Chauvin, who is currently 45 years old.
The big question I believe Americans have now is will Chauvin be given the same professional, unbiased consideration provided to the average citizen with no prior criminal history who has been convicted of a crime, or will Chauvin’s sentence be increased because he was a police officer? It’s hard to be certain, but regardless of the outcome Friday, the case will no doubt again be headline news in global journalism for many days to follow.