A Minnesota judge has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the death of George Floyd, paving the way for a longer sentence for Derek Chauvin.
In his ruling made public Wednesday, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill found that Chauvin abused his authority as a Minneapolis police officer when he restrained Floyd in May 2020, and that he treated Floyd with particular cruelty. The ruling also found that Chauvin committed his crime as part of a group with the active participation of at least three other officers and acted with children present, including a 9-year-old girl and her 17-year-old cousin whose cellphone video of Floyd’s arrest brought international attention to his death.
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes. Floyd, 46, a Black father, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin and the three other police officers who were at the scene were fired a day after Floyd’s death.
Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced June 25. Even with the aggravating factors, legal experts have said, he is unlikely to get more than 30 years.
Even though he was found guilty of three counts, under Minnesota statutes he will only be sentenced on the most serious count — second-degree murder, said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota.
Under the state’s sentencing guidelines, Chauvin, who had no criminal history, would have faced a presumptive sentence of 12 ½ years on that count, he said.
“This is basically Cahill giving himself permission to depart above the top of the sentencing guideline range, 180 months,” Osler said. “He doesn’t have to do so, but he can. Both sides will argue on whether a departure is appropriate, and how long it should be.”
Prosecutors had asked for what is known as an upward departure, citing five aggravating factors. Cahill agreed with all but one. He said prosecutors did not prove that Floyd was particularly vulnerable.
Chauvin and the three other officers who detained Floyd — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — were indicted on federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights, the Justice Department announced Friday. A second indictment also charged Chauvin with depriving a 14-year-old boy of his civil rights during a September 2017 encounter in which he is accused of holding the boy by the throat and striking his head multiple times with a flashlight.
Floyd’s killing led to months of demonstrations against police violence.
Janelle Griffith is a national reporter for NBC News focusing on issues of race and policing.