Derek Chauvin will be sentenced Thursday for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, with a deal that would extend the former Minneapolis police officer’s time behind bars while moving him to possibly more favorable conditions in federal prison.
Chauvin accepted a sentence of 20 to 25 years in his December guilty plea to a federal charge in Floyd’s murder. US District Judge Paul Magnuson will make the final decision and prosecutors will pursue the 25, arguing that Chauvin’s actions were cold-blooded and unnecessary.
The defense has asked for 20 years, saying Chauvin accepts responsibility for what he did, and has already received a 22 1/2-year prison sentence from state court for killing Floyd. Attorney Eric Nelson wrote that Chauvin’s “remorse will be evident before this court,” suggesting that Chauvin is likely to speak at Thursday’s hearing.
Former federal prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger said a judge could take such a statement into account during sentencing.
“This is your chance to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t think, or whatever,’” Heffelfinger said. “In federal court, it is very advantageous for the inmate to be repentant and show remorse, even more so than in a state sentence.”
Chauvin briefly addressed Floyd’s family at his state sentencing hearing in May 2021, offering his condolences. Family members of Floyd gave victim impact statements at the time and are entitled to do so on Thursday. Lawyers for the family did not respond to messages seeking comment on their plans.
In filing his federal plea, Chauvin admitted for the first time that he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, even as the black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and then became unresponsive, resulting in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, who is white, admitted that he willfully deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizures, including unreasonable force by a police officer, during the May 2020 arrest.
Floyd’s murder sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
For his own protection, Chauvin has been isolated in a 10-by-10-foot room at the state’s maximum-security prison from which he is allowed to leave for an average of an hour a day to exercise.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson said in a court filing last month that Chauvin may never be placed in the general population of a prison because of the risks of him becoming a target.
Chauvin’s plea agreement requires that he serve his federal sentence concurrently with his state sentence, and that he serve it in federal prison. He is expected to serve more time behind bars than he would have faced with the state sentence alone.
However, experts say Chauvin could be safer and live with fewer restrictions in a federal prison. The security level and final destination of him will depend on the US Bureau of Prisons, which could send him anywhere in the country.
Chauvin would be at risk in the general population of a Minnesota state prison to run into inmates he had arrested or investigated. While he can’t entirely escape his notoriety in a federal prison elsewhere, it’s unlikely he’ll run into any inmates he has a direct connection to. If the office decides that he is safe enough among the general population, he will have more opportunities to move around the facility, work, and participate in programming.
With credit for good time in the federal system, he could serve between 17 and 21 1/4 years behind bars, assuming the judge sticks to the range in the plea deal. In the state system alone, Chauvin could have been eligible for parole after about 15 years.
Three other former Minneapolis police officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane, were convicted in February on federal civil rights charges in Floyd’s murder. Magnuson has not set sentencing dates for them.
Lane is also due to be sentenced Sept. 21 after pleading guilty in state court to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. Thao and Kueng have rejected plea deals and will be tried in state court on October 24 on charges of aiding and abetting.