The Chauvin verdict is in. Judge Peter Cahill will sentence Chauvin—who was convicted on all three charges in the murder of George Floyd—on Wednesday, June 25, 2021, at 1:30 pm at the Hennepin County Government Center.
Let’s break down the charges, the process going forward, and Chauvin’s likely sentence.
A unanimous jury of twelve convicted Chauvin on all three charges, second-degree (unintentional) murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Judge Cahill will sentence him only on the most serious charge, which is second-degree murder. In Minnesota, even if a person’s conduct can be charged under different statutes, the person can only be punished or sentenced, for one offense.
In other words, Chauvin’s behavior toward Floyd was the same, but the state accused him of violating three different statutes, each of which allowed prosecutors to argue different legal theories. The second-degree murder charge required the state to prove that Chauvin intended to assault Floyd and that he inflicted substantial bodily harm.
Considering that Noor received 12½ years, we can expect Chauvin to receive more prison time.
To convict Chauvin of the third-degree murder or the second-degree manslaughter charges, the state had to prove that Chauvin’s conduct was either reckless or culpably negligent. Each of the three charges required prosecutors to prove that Chauvin’s actions were a, not the, substantial cause of Floyd’s death. Although the jury convicted Chauvin on all three charges, he will only be sentenced on the most serious charge. For those who are curious, the statewide computer system will reflect convictions on charges two and three, but not a sentence.
There are situations in which a judge could sentence a person on multiple counts arising from the same complaint (charging document.) Let’s say someone fired multiple shots and injured several people. The prosecutor could include charges for each victim in the same complaint. While the conduct of firing the shots was a single act, a judge could pronounce a sentence on each charge because there were multiple victims. The difference with Chauvin is that his conduct was directed at one victim, George Floyd.
A person can be sentenced separately for each charge if his conduct is directed at one person, but his behaviors constitute different crimes. For example, a judge can impose separate sentences for kidnapping and assault if a person kidnaps someone and then assaults him. A judge can also pronounce separate sentences on charges in more than one complaint because the conduct or behavior arises from separate incidents.
To summarize, Chauvin’s conduct happened in a single incident and it was directed at one person, Floyd. The jury convicted him of three charges, all of which described different legal theories about the same conduct. This is why Judge Cahill will impose a sentence on only the most serious charge, second-degree murder (unintentional.)
Some wonder whether the sentences for the three charges will be “stacked.” I have explained why there will not be three sentences to “stack,” but Minnesota law does allow for permissive consecutive sentences in some situations. Consecutive sentences are served one after another, although most sentences in Minnesota are presumed to be concurrent.
I once had a sentencing before a judge who took great care to explain to my client what his sentence would be. He told my client that, although he was being sentenced on two different charges, he would be serving them at the same time. He went on to explain that he would not be serving the sentences back to back and that when he got out on the longest sentence, he would be done serving his time. My client responded, “Oh, you mean they are concurrent?” We all had a good laugh, including the judge, who said, “Yes.”
People wonder why Chauvin’s sentencing date is scheduled so far away, on June 25 at 1:30 pm. The answer is that the judge and the lawyers have work to do before then. The state has asked the judge to give Chauvin a greater sentence than allowed under the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. According to the sentencing guidelines grid, the judge can sentence Chauvin to a range of 128 to 180 months. The midrange sentence is 150 months, or about twelve and a half years. This is the sentence former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor received after being convicted of third-degree murder.
Judge to consider aggravating factors
The judge has the authority to impose a greater sentence than the guidelines recommend if “aggravating factors” are present. These are facts from the case that make the crime more serious than other convictions for second-degree (unintentional) murder. Chauvin gave up his right to have his jury decide whether aggravating factors exist, and so Judge Cahill will make that determination.
The aggravating factors put forth by the state are:
- Chauvin was in a position of authority, as a police officer.
- Children were present.
- George Floyd was particularly vulnerable because he was handcuffed behind his back.
- Chauvin’s actions were particularly cruel.
- Chauvin was part of a group of three or more who committed the crime.
The judge will rely on the evidence he heard in the trial, rather than inviting any additional testimony. Although some of these factors are straightforward (the presence of children) others are subject to interpretation (particular cruelty, as compared to other cases.) For this reason, the judge is giving the lawyers the opportunity to do research and write briefs on whether aggravating factors are present.
After considering what the lawyers have written, the judge will decide whether there are aggravating factors and, if so, which ones. Once the lawyers have his decision, they will do research and write briefs arguing what sentence Chauvin should receive.
At the same time, a probation officer will be writing what is called a presentence investigation, or PSI. This includes Chauvin’s social history, any history of substance abuse disorder, mental health issues, or medical issues.
Floyd’s family will be asked whether they want to submit victim impact statements, which would be included in the PSI. Chauvin will be asked whether he wants to give a statement. Judges look at whether the person takes responsibility for his actions and whether they express remorse. The PSI is a confidential document so it will not be available to the public.
During the sentencing, the judge will hear from family members who want to make victim impact statements. An advocate will tell them that the victim impact must be directed at the judge, not Chauvin. If you hear the judge ask someone to direct his or her comments to him, that is why.
Although the lawyers will have submitted their arguments in writing, the judge will ask if they have any additional comments. Finally, the judge will ask Chauvin whether he wants to exercise his right of allocution, which simply means his right to make a statement to the court before he is sentenced.
The judge will then impose his sentence. There is a Minnesota case indicating that a judge will probably not be reversed by the appellate court if, after finding aggravating factors, he imposes what is referred to as a “double departure.” This means doubling the top of the box (180 months) allowed by the sentencing guidelines, which would be 30 years. This is one reason why Chauvin will probably not receive the statutory maximum of 40 years.
Considering that Noor received 12½ years, we can expect Chauvin to receive more prison time. With a range between 12½ and 30 years, my completely speculative guess is that Chauvin will receive a sentence in the ballpark of 20 years.
Sadly, it will not bring George Perry Floyd, Jr. back.
Mary Moriarty was a public defender for 30 years, most recently for Hennepin County. She welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.