Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd, was sentenced Friday to 22 1/2 years in prison, bringing a measure of closure to a case that set off waves of protest across the nation over police abuse of Black people.
The sentence, delivered by Judge Peter A. Cahill of Hennepin County District Court, came more than a year after a widely shared cellphone video captured Chauvin pressing his knee on the neck of Floyd for more than nine minutes along a Minneapolis street. Earlier this year, Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, and the sentence followed emotional statements in court Friday by members of Floyd’s family as well as by Chauvin’s mother.
Chauvin, who spoke only briefly during the hearing Friday, offering condolences to the Floyd family, has been behind bars since his trial, which ended in April. The judge said Chauvin would be credited with 199 days already served toward his sentence. Officials said he was being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety.
Before the sentencing hearing, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, had pressed the court for leniency, asking for probation and time served. Nelson wrote in a memorandum that Chauvin had not known that he was committing a crime when he tried to arrest Floyd on a report that he had tried to use a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Nelson also argued that placing Chauvin in prison would make him a target of other inmates.
In seeking a 30-year prison sentence for Chauvin, prosecutors had argued that the former officer’s actions had “traumatized Mr. Floyd’s family, the bystanders who watched Mr. Floyd die, and the community. And his conduct shocked the nation’s conscience.”
The killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by Chauvin, 45, who is white, led to a national reckoning over racial injustice in almost every aspect of American life. Calls emerged around the country to defund police budgets, remove statues of historical figures tied to racism and diversify predominantly white corporate boards.
The maximum sentence allowed under Minnesota law for second-degree murder, the most serious charge Chauvin was convicted of, is 40 years. Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, though, a presumptive sentence for someone like Chauvin with no criminal history is 12.5 years. The jury, which deliberated for just over 10 hours following a six week trial, also convicted Chauvin of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
In recent weeks, Cahill had ruled that four so-called “aggravating factors” applied to the case, raising the prospect of a harsher sentence. The judge found that Chauvin acted with particular cruelty; acted with the participation of three other individuals, who were fellow officers; abused his position of authority; and committed his crime in the presence of children, who witnessed the killing on a Minneapolis street corner on May 25, 2020.
Chauvin’s conviction was a rare rebuke by the criminal justice system against a police officer who killed someone while on duty. Officers are often given wide latitude to use force, and juries have historically been reluctant to second guess them, especially when they make split-second decisions under dangerous circumstances.
Chauvin is one of 11 police officers who have been convicted of murder for on-duty killings since 2005, according to research conducted by Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University. The lightest sentence has been just less than seven years in prison, while the harshest was 40 years. The average sentence has been 21.7 years.
Chauvin’s sentencing Friday, while a significant milestone, does not end the legal proceedings concerning Floyd’s death. Chauvin still faces criminal charges in federal court, where he is accused of violating Floyd’s constitutional rights. And three other police officers face a state trial, scheduled for March, on charges of aiding and abetting. Those officers, too, were indicted by a federal grand jury as well.