MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Chauvin will learn his sentence Thursday for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, with a deal in place that would extend the former Minneapolis police officer’s time behind bars while shifting him to possibly more favorable conditions in a federal prison.
Chauvin agreed to a sentence of 20 to 25 years in his December plea to a federal charge in Floyd’s killing. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson will make the final decision, with prosecutors seeking the full 25 on the grounds that Chauvin’s actions were cold-blooded and needless.
The defense has asked for 20 years, saying Chauvin accepts responsibility for what he did, and has already gotten a 22 1/2-year prison sentence from a state court for murdering Floyd. Attorney Eric Nelson wrote that Chauvin’s “remorse will be made apparent to this Court,” suggesting Chauvin is likely to speak at Thursday’s hearing.
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said a judge could take such a statement into consideration during sentencing.
“This is his opportunity to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t think, or whatever,’” Heffelfinger said. “In federal court it’s very much to the inmate’s advantage to be remorseful, and to demonstrate remorse, even more than at a state sentencing.”
Chauvin briefly addressed Floyd’s family at his state sentencing hearing in May 2021, offering condolences. Relatives of Floyd gave victim impact statements then, and have the right to do so Thursday. The family’s attorneys did not respond to messages seeking comment on their plans.
In entering his federal plea, Chauvin for the first time admitted that he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck — even as the Black man’s pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and then became unresponsive — resulting in Floyd’s death. Chauvin, who is white, admitted he willfully deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer, during the May 2020 arrest.
Floyd’s killing sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world in a reckoning over police brutality and racism.
For his own protection, Chauvin has been held in isolation in a 10-by-10-foot room at the state’s maximum security prison that he’s allowed to leave for an average of one hour per day for exercise.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson said in a court filing last month that Chauvin might never be placed in a prison’s general population because of the risks of him becoming a target.
Chauvin’s plea deal calls for him to serve the federal sentence at the same time as the state one, and to serve it in federal prison. He’s expected to serve more time behind bars than he would have faced on the state sentence alone.
However, experts say Chauvin might be safer, and live under fewer restrictions, in a federal prison. His security level and final destination will be up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which could send him anywhere in the country.
Chauvin would run the risk in the general population of a Minnesota state prison of encountering inmates he had arrested or investigated. While he can’t totally escape his notoriety in a federal prison elsewhere, he’s unlikely to encounter inmates with whom he has a direct connection. If the bureau decides he’s safe enough in the general population, he’d have more opportunities to move about the facility, to work and to participate in programming.
With credit for good time in the federal system, he could serve anywhere from 17 years to 21 1/4 years behind bars, assuming the judge sticks to the range in the plea agreement. In the state system alone, Chauvin could have become entitled to parole after about 15 years.
Three other former Minneapolis police officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — were convicted in February of federal civil rights charges in Floyd’s killing. 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 turned down plea deals and are due to be tried in state court Oct. 24 on aiding and abetting charges.