Barring any appeals, Derek Chauvin will spend at least 14 years in prison for killing George Floyd.
He is only the second police officer in modern Minnesota history to be sentenced to prison for killing a civilian on the job. He is the first since Mohamed Noor was convicted of second-degree murder in 2019 and sentenced to 121⁄2 years.
Angi Porter, a Georgetown Law School research fellow, has been following the Chauvin trial and providing legal analyst for Sirius XM and Minnesota Public Radio among others as a Minnesota attorney, a law professor, and a former judicial law clerk at the U.S. District Court.
We asked Porter what she thought about many community members, including members of the Floyd family, who believe that Chauvin’s sentence was not long enough. “I don’t know that it’s particularly controversial that he [Judge Cahill] probably already had his mind made up,” Porter explained.
“There are so many things that happened behind the curtain,” including pre-sentence statements from both the defense and the prosecution. “It isn’t intuitive when you’re a member of the public watching because there’s all this stuff going on.”
Porter admitted that the 22.5-year sentence somewhat surprised her. “From a legal perspective, my prediction was 15 to 20 years,” she continued. “So actually, this is longer than I thought.”
She knew that many wanted the sentence to make a statement, but Porter said it was unrealistic for some to hope that the Chauvin sentence would “address all of the police killings and the racist killings of Black men and Black women,” argued Porter. “All of that was what we as the public wanted to go into the sentence. But legally, the court looks at it case by case, and they can’t consider all of that.”
“Putting that all together,” she pointed out, “I thought he [Cahill] was going to be a little bit more on the lower end, and especially given the racial biases at play that I was factoring in.” Cahill also had the Noor sentence as a precedent and “has similar guideline range—10 to 15 years. So, I thought maybe he would be higher than normal, but not much.”
“As a Black human being in America, I thought he [Chauvin] should have gotten the maximum,” Porter said. “I’m looking at this as such a heinous crime…it deserves the highest penalty. Someone has to take responsibility and that’s Derek Chauvin. I definitely agree and empathize with the [Floyd] family who requested the maximum sentence [30 years], and others who are saying it should have been.”
If Chauvin qualifies for “good behavior” after serving almost 15 years, he can serve the balance of his sentence on supervised release.
But Porter quickly pointed out that there is no such thing as good behavior based on Minnesota sentencing guidelines.
“Everybody serves two-thirds of the sentence in prison in Minnesota, and they serve the last third on what’s called supervised release, which is what most people think of as parole. So, this sentence means 15 years.”
Minneapolis NAACP Vice-President P.J. Hill said that the Chauvin sentence can be a positive step in restoring trust between law enforcement and the Black communities, as well as trust in the U.S. judicial system. “For us as African Americans, as citizens of this country, to even ask for justice and just be OK with partial justice, it is a step forward, but not a huge step. It’s going to be a long time before the trauma is completely healed, but we got to stay in it together.”