Police officers who kill often receive lenient sentences or no punishment. Derek Chauvin could be the exception.
MINNEAPOLIS – Twelve jurors took about 10 hours to convict Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd. It was a quick rebuke to wrap up the three-week trial of the former Minneapolis cop.
Their decisive action, however, does not guarantee that he will get a harsh punishment when sentenced on Friday.
Chauvin is among a small group of non-federal law enforcement officers – such as police officers, deputy sheriffs, and state soldiers – who have been convicted of charges related to on-duty murders over the past 15 years and an even smaller group to condemn murder. On average, these officers were sentenced to much less jail time than their civilian counterparts.
Chauvin is among 11 non-federal law enforcement officers convicted of murder resulting from an incident on duty since 2005, according to Philip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who follows the police pursuits.
The average sentence for the nine convicted to date is 21.7 years in prison, he said, with 81 months as the shortest sentence and life in prison as the longest.
Civilians convicted of murder, on the other hand, received an average sentence of 48.8 years in prison in 2018, according to a report published in March by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Department of Justice.
Stinson has said he expects Chauvin to receive a long prison term.
The “shocking nature” of the cellphone video recording of Floyd’s arrest and death, as well as the “flat eye effect of Chauvin’s face as he slowly killed a man” separates this case other people killed by police, he said.
The prosecution asked that Chauvin be sentenced to 30 years. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, requested that he be given probation with time served or for a downward deviation from sentencing guidelines.
“His lawyers would probably argue that any period of incarceration, including his time in jail pending conviction, is a very difficult time for a former law enforcement officer,” said Stinson, who was a police officer for some time. years in New Hampshire. “Well that’s true but that’s not the court’s main concern here.”
Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 and a half minutes on May 25, 2020, while Floyd, a black man, gasped and said he couldn’t breathe. Video of the fatal encounter sparked months of global protests against police brutality and fueled calls for police reform.
Chauvin will be sentenced by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who wrote in a ruling last month that prosecutors had proven that there were aggravating factors in Floyd’s death, among which Chauvin was “particularly cruel” for killing Floyd slowly and abusing his position of authority. Cahill also wrote that Chauvin committed the crime with the active participation of at least three other people and in the presence of children – the youngest of whom, the judge noted, was 9 and three were 17.
Chauvin, who was fired the day after Floyd died, was convicted of second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter, but under Minnesota sentencing guidelines , he will only be convicted of the most serious charge of second degree murder. Without any aggravating factors, people in Minnesota convicted of second degree murder who do not have a criminal record are typically sentenced to 12.5 years in prison and no more than 15 years, legal experts have said. By agreeing with prosecutors that there were aggravating factors in Floyd’s death, Cahill paved the way for adding more time to Chauvin’s alleged sentence.
Christopher Brown, a Virginia lawyer specializing in cases of excessive force, said he believes Chauvin will receive a harsh sentence.
“Chauvin’s trial in the George Floyd murder case has generated enormous attention and public outcry, and given that the verdict was quickly reached on all counts, I expect the judge condemn Chauvin in accordance with this outcry and result, “said Brown, who won a 2020 $ 3.5 million settlement for the family of Wayne Jones, a black man who has been shot 22 times by police in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 2013.
Historically, however, conviction even in cases of high-level officers has fallen short of expectations.
Jason Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, was convicted in 2018 of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated assault and battery – one for each shot he fired at Laquan McDonald, a black teenager , in 2014. Van Dyke, who is white, was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison, less than half of the sentence requested by prosecutors. In rendering his ruling, Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan said: “It’s a tragedy for both sides. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not easy.”
Van Dyke’s family and several Chicago police officers writes letters in which they ask for clemency.
Given that officers are not held to the same standards as civilians in similar circumstances, Gloria Browne-Marshall, civil rights lawyer and professor of constitutional law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York said it won’t be surprised if Chauvin gets a prison sentence of 15 years or less.
“I am concerned about the discretion of the judge,” she said.
Stinson only followed two cases, from 2005 to 2015, in which a police officer was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison following an on-duty incident that was not a shooting , one in Michigan and the other in Georgia. Kenneth Bluew, a former officer with the Buena Vista Michigan Police Department, was charged with murder in the strangulation death of Jennifer Webb, who was eight months pregnant with her son when she was killed in August 2011 Bluew was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, among other charges, carrying a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Marcus Eberhart was convicted in 2016 of the murder of Gregory Lewis Towns Jr., 24, who died after being repeatedly electrocuted with a Taser while in handcuffs. Eberhart, a former sergeant from suburban Atlanta at East Point, was sentenced to life in prison.
Regardless of the punishment, neither Stinson nor Browne-Marshall believe Chauvin’s punishment will have a big impact.
“This case will not lead to widespread changes in policing and reform of policing,” Stinson said. “It’s a criminal case.”
He said it was very difficult to bring comprehensive reforms in the police “when we have a decentralized law enforcement system in this country with over 18,000 national and local law enforcement agencies.” .
“All police services are local,” he said. “And it is very difficult to legislate on reforms.”
If anything, Brown said, he expects a “harsh sentence to translate into an even greater setback by law enforcement towards needed reform.”
Browne-Marshall said that while Chauvin’s case has the potential to spark national change, changes are unlikely to materialize.
“Unfortunately, from what we have been able to see, most prosecutors ignore this case as an outlier,” she said, adding that many prosecutors continue “to turn their backs on their responsibilities to the public. and victims of civilian deaths involving the police. “
Chauvin’s case is an anomaly, in part, because he was prosecuted by Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison’s office, Browne-Marshall said. Local prosecutors usually under-charge the police if they charge them, she said.
“So what signal does this send to prosecutors across the country?” ” she asked. “How many times will courts be able to bring in outsiders to work on these cases because prosecutors work hand in hand with the police department and they think their job is more to protect the police than to protect? the public or to defend the rights of victims? “