In an opposing filing, prosecutors argued for a 30-year sentence for the former Minneapolis police officer.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is seeking a sentence of probation and time served for the murder of George Floyd, per a memorandum filed by his lawyer Wednesday afternoon.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued in the filing that Chauvin had no criminal history, that he hadn’t intended to cause Floyd’s death and that a lengthy prison sentence would make him a target and threaten his health more generally.
“Mr. Chauvin is not the average offender. Prior to this incident, Mr. Chauvin led a hard-working, law abiding life, and has experienced no legal issues until the point of his arrest,” Nelson wrote. “Mr. Chauvin still has the ability to positively impact his family and his community.”
Nelson pointed to Chauvin’s 19-year career with and commendations from the Minneapolis Police Department, his relationships with his family and letters of support he received in the wake of his arrest. He lamented that “in the eyes of the public, Mr. Chauvin has been reduced to this incident, and he has been painted as a dangerous man” despite those elements of his life.
He also argued that Chauvin wasn’t aware that kneeling on Floyd’s neck for approximately nine and a half minutes was a crime.
“As is clear from Mr. Chauvin’s actions, had he believed he was committing a crime, as [a] licensed police officer, Mr. Chauvin simply would not have done so,” the sentencing memo states. “Mr. Chauvin’s offense is best described as an error made in good faith reliance his own experience as a police officer and the training he had received.”
Chauvin was convicted in late April of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s May 2020 death. Following a determination by Judge Peter Cahill that several aggravating factors apply, Chauvin could face up to 30 years in prison. He is also facing federal civil rights charges for Floyd’s deadly arrest and for the alleged arrest, restraint and beating of a 14-year-old boy in 2017. Any resolution of those charges is months away, but Chauvin made his first appearance in federal court on Tuesday.
Nelson contested several of Cahill’s sentencing findings in his memorandum. Chauvin’s conduct was not “particularly cruel” or gratuitous, he wrote, and no caselaw in Minnesota supported upward sentencing departures for police officers “abusing a position of trust and authority.”
Prosecutors countered that point in a memorandum filed shortly after Nelson’s.
“That observation is unsurprising: Successful prosecutions of police officers are rare, and there is no prior case in Minnesota in which a police officer has been convicted of murder and the state has sought an upward sentencing departure. It is also legally irrelevant,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank wrote, pointing to precedent that says abuse of authority is grounds for a longer sentence when the perpetrator and victim have “a relationship  fraught with power imbalances that may make it difficult for a victim to protect himself or herself.”
“If anything, the case for an enhancement is heightened, not reduced, when a defendant commits crimes while imbued with the authority of the state,” Frank added.
Nelson wrote that while children were undoubtedly present at Floyd’s murder, most cases in which their presence was an aggravating factor occurred in situations where the children were there involuntarily, not as bystanders who could walk away if they so chose. Frank took a different reading of caselaw, and argued that regardless the four minors known to have witnessed Floyd’s death stayed on the scene to plead for his life.
Nelson also argued that another sentencing factor, related to the involvement of fellow officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, could not be proven until the aiding-and-abetting charges against the trio are resolved. All three are set to go to trial in state court in March 2022 after their August federal-court trial delayed that matter.
Frank argued that this scheduling difference demonstrated flaws with Nelson’s stance.
“Whether a defendant receives an upward sentencing departure based on this aggravating factor should not turn on whether the defendant is tried before or after his or her co-defendants,” the prosecutor’s memo states. “It should not turn, in other words, on a quirk of timing.”
Frank argued that the four sentencing factors were egregious enough to justify a doubling of the standard 12.5-15 year sentence for second-degree murder.
“Defendant cruelly murdered Mr. Floyd in public view. His actions traumatized Mr. Floyd’s family,” he wrote. “His actions traumatized the bystanders who pleaded with defendant as they watched him kill Mr. Floyd. His actions traumatized the community, prompting an outpouring of grief and protest across Minneapolis and the state. And his actions shocked the conscience of the nation.”
Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25. He was placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshals after Tuesday’s federal court hearing. It’s unclear whether that meant he would continue to be housed in the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ Oak Park Heights facility.