MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors are asking a judge to give Derek Chauvin a more severe penalty than state guidelines call for when he is sentenced in June for George Floyd’s death, arguing in court documents filed Friday that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and that Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson is opposing a tougher sentence, saying the state has failed to prove that those aggravating factors, among others, existed when Chauvin arrested Floyd on May 25.
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last week of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe and went motionless.
Even though he was found guilty of three counts, under Minnesota statutes he’ll only be sentenced on the most serious one — second-degree murder. While that count carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, experts say he won’t get that much.
Prosecutors did not specify how much time they would seek for Chauvin.
Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, the presumptive sentence for second-degree unintentional murder for someone with no criminal record like Chauvin would be 12 1/2 years. Judges can sentence someone to as little as 10 years and eight months or as much as 15 years and still be within the advisory guideline range. To go above that, Judge Peter Cahill would have to find that there were “aggravating factors,” and even if those are found, legal experts have said Chauvin would likely not face more than 30 years.
In legal briefs filed Friday, prosecutors said Chauvin should be sentenced above the guideline range because Floyd was particularly vulnerable with his hands cuffed behind his back as he was face-down on the ground, and that he was intoxicated. They noted that Chauvin held his position even after Floyd became unresponsive and officers knew he had no pulse.
Prosecutors also said Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty during the lengthy restraint, saying Chauvin inflicted gratuitous pain and caused psychological distress to Floyd and to bystanders.
“Defendant continued to maintain his position atop Mr. Floyd even as Mr. Floyd cried out that he was in pain, even as Mr. Floyd exclaimed 27 times that he could not breathe, and even as Mr. Floyd said that Defendant’s actions were killing him,” prosecutors wrote. They added that he stayed in position as Floyd cried out for his mother, stopped speaking and lost consciousness.
“Defendant thus did not just inflict physical pain. He caused Mr. Floyd psychological distress during the final moments of his life, leaving Mr. Floyd helpless as he squeezed the last vestiges of life out of Mr. Floyd’s body,” prosecutors wrote.
They also said that Chauvin abused his position of authority as a police officer, committed his crime as part of a group of three or more people, and that he pinned Floyd down in the presence of children — including a 9-year-old girl who testified at trial that watching the restraint made her “sad and kind of mad.”
Nelson disagreed, writing that “Mr. Chauvin entered into the officers’ encounter with Mr. Floyd with legal authority to assist in effecting the lawful arrest of an actively-resisting criminal suspect. Mr. Chauvin was authorized, under Minnesota law, to use reasonable force to do so.”
Nelson said Floyd was not particularly vulnerable, saying he was a large man who was struggling with officers. He wrote that courts have typically found particular vulnerability if the victims are young, or perhaps sleeping, when a crime occurs.
Nelson also said Floyd was not treated with particular cruelty, saying that there is no evidence that the assault perpetrated by Chauvin involved gratuitous pain that’s not usually associated with second-degree murder.
“The assault of Mr. Floyd occurred in the course of a very short time, involved no threats or taunting, such as putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger ... and ended when EMS finally responded to officers’ calls,” Nelson wrote.
He also said the state hasn’t proven that any of the other officers actively participated in the crime for which Chauvin was convicted. Those officers are scheduled to face trial on aiding and abetting charges in August. He also wrote that the presence of children in this case is different from cases in which children might be witnessing a crime in a home and unable to leave.
And, he said, the state failed to prove that Chauvin’s role as a police officer was an aggravating factor, saying that Floyd’s struggle with officers showed that Chauvin’s authority was irrelevant to Floyd.
Cahill has said he will review the attorneys’ written arguments before determining whether aggravating factors exist that would warrant a tougher sentence.
No matter what sentence Chauvin gets, in Minnesota it’s presumed that a defendant with good behavior will serve two-thirds of the penalty in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.