Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd with a knee pressed to his neck, should receive no prison time or far less than the maximum sentence, his defense attorney wrote in a court filing Wednesday.
In a brief filed on Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Chauvin’s “Mr. Floyd’s family, bystanders who witnessed Mr. Floyd’s death, and the community were all traumatized as a result of his actions. And his actions shocked the conscience of the nation.”
In May 2020, Chauvin, 45, was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which sparked mass protests and a national reckoning about systemic racism and police brutality. Chauvin’s sentencing date has been set for June 25.
He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison because the judge overseeing the case determined, among other things, that he abused his position of trust and authority.
Chauvin has been in prison since April 21st, awaiting sentencing, and would be given credit for time served. His attorney, Eric Nelson, stated in the filing that Chauvin is being held in solitary confinement in a high-security prison because he is likely to be targeted by other inmates.
Three other officers involved in the incident face charges of complicity in Floyd’s murder. They are set to go on trial next year. In federal court, all four officers were charged with violating Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest. Chauvin appeared in court for the first time in that case on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is looking into whether the Minneapolis Police Department is violating people’s civil rights on a systematic basis.
Nelson wrote in the filing on Wednesday that Chauvin was born to a “loving mother, father, and sister,” served in the military, and received high ratings on performance reviews during his 19 years as a police officer.
Nelson wrote that Chauvin has the support of his ex-wife and her family, and that he has received thousands of letters of support from people all over the world since his arrest. Legal experts predicted that the request for a lower sentence than the sentencing guidelines called for. They claimed, however, that the defense’s filing was offensive because Nelson provided no evidence of Chauvin’s apologies and instead appealed to sympathy. Floyd was handcuffed and lying facedown on the street after Minneapolis police officers responded to a complaint from a convenience store that he had used a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s back and neck for about 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd cried out repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers recorded it on their cellphones. Even after Floyd’s pulse stopped, Chauvin remained in place until a paramedic waved him away so Floyd could be loaded onto a gurney.
Prosecutors argued for the maximum sentence, saying Chauvin’s betrayal of trust and the manner in which he killed Floyd were “especially heinous because it was witnessed by children, who risk being traumatized for the rest of their lives.”
According to Joseph Daly, a law professor at the Mitchell-Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, the appeal to sympathy is unlikely to be effective.
The defense filing states that a presentence investigation discovered Chauvin had no criminal history, but it does not state that Chauvin made a statement to a probation officer. That was a missed opportunity to express regret, according to Mary Moriarty, the former Hennepin County chief public defender. Nelson’s filing does not go into detail about the “broken system” that Chauvin was a product of.
Typically, Moriarty said, that reference conjures up images of “huge racial disparities and a system designed that way from enslavement to Jim Crowe to mass incarceration.”
According to Armstrong, Chauvin is the “poster child for why the system is broken.” We must end the practice of giving police officers so much power over Black lives while holding them so little accountable when they abuse that power.” Chauvin has filed an appeal against his conviction. Throughout the trial, Nelson maintained that the intense public interest tainted the jury pool and that the judge should have changed the venue or sequestered the jury.
Nelson argues in another filing Wednesday that these factors denied Chauvin a fair trial and that a new trial should be held elsewhere.