Saying that Derek Chauvin was “particularly cruel” for slowly killing George Floyd, the Minneapolis judge who oversaw Mr. Chauvin’s murder trial on Wednesday issued a ruling that could dramatically increase the time the former police officer spends behind them. bars.
In the six-page opinion, Judge Peter A. Cahill said prosecutors proved Mr. Chauvin abused his position of trust and authority, treated Mr. Floyd with particular cruelty and committed his crime by presence of children and with the participation of at least three other people.
Finding so-called aggravating factors allows Judge Cahill to sentence Mr. Chauvin to more than 15 years in prison, the longest sentence for second degree murder under Minnesota sentencing guidelines. While state statutes allow the judge to sentence Mr. Chauvin to a maximum of 40 years, legal experts say he is highly unlikely to receive more than 30 years.
Justice Cahill also ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove a fifth aggravating factor – that Mr. Floyd was particularly vulnerable because he was restrained and intoxicated with drugs. Still, the judge needed to find only one aggravating factor to enable him to convict Mr. Chauvin beyond the 15-year directive, said Ted Sampsell-Jones, professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn.
Mr Floyd’s death gained worldwide attention after a video was released showing Mr Chauvin kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes as he repeatedly screamed that he couldn’t breathe.
“It was particularly cruel to slowly kill George Floyd by preventing him from breathing when Mr. Floyd had already made it clear that he was having trouble breathing,” wrote Justice Cahill.
He added that Mr. Floyd “was begging for his life and obviously terrified that he was likely to die” and that Mr. Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas”.
Police officers have a duty to treat those they arrest with respect, to use only reasonable force and to provide medical care when needed, the judge wrote. Mr Chauvin, who was fired shortly after Mr Floyd’s death, failed on all of those measures, according to the ruling.
Justice Cahill pointed out that Mr. Chauvin continued to kneel on top of Mr. Floyd for four and a half minutes after he became unresponsive. He also noted that Mr. Chauvin ignored his colleagues when they said that Mr. Floyd, who was handcuffed face down on a street corner in Minneapolis, had no pulse and that they should consider turn it on its side.
It was “a flagrant abuse of the authority to subdue and restrict,” wrote Justice Cahill.
Jurors have also found Mr. Chauvin guilty of third degree murder and second degree manslaughter, but Mr. Chauvin will only be convicted on the main charge of second degree murder. His sentencing is slated for next month.
Without any aggravating factors, defendants convicted of the same offenses are typically sentenced to 12.5 years in prison, Professor Sampsell-Jones said.
State sentencing guidelines were introduced to address disparities between when judges had wide latitude in determining the length of a prison sentence. According to a concept in Minnesota case law known as Evans’s Rule, judges can go up to twice the recommended maximum sentence when there are aggravating factors. Since the highest guideline in Mr Chauvin’s case is 15 years, that means Judge Cahill can go up to 30 years.
But subsequent state Supreme Court rulings concluded that judges can go beyond Evans’ rule in extremely rare circumstances, Professor Sampsell-Jones said.
“The fact that he found multiple factors could make this case one in a million Evans rule violations,” said Professor Sampsell-Jones, who added he would still be surprised because the Judge Cahill was a “moderate sentencer.”
AL Brown, a criminal defense attorney based in the Twin Cities, said it was no surprise Judge Cahill found aggravating factors because of the overwhelming evidence. But the judge does not have to increase the defendant’s sentence because of these factors, Mr. Brown noted, so he will wait to gauge their importance until the sentence is actually handed down.
“I’m not going to start a parade because Judge Cahill paid attention to the obvious,” he said. “Let’s see what he does with it.”