Updated: June 25, 2021 10:47 PM
Created: June 25, 2021 10:39 PM
Former U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald wasn’t surprised when Judge Peter Cahill decided to sentence Derek Chauvin to 22 ½ years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.
Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“I don’t think there's anybody who truly believed at all that probation was on the table,” said MacDonald, who is also a former District Court judge. “Based on my analysis before, looking at the guidelines and aggravating factors and what I would’ve done, I thought somewhere between 20 and 24 years was fair and reasonable in this case. It appropriately accounted for the conduct and doesn’t provide for unwarranted disparities with other cases.”
In his memorandum explaining his decision, Judge Cahill cited other second-degree murder sentences as justification for his ruling. He also explained aggravating factors that he felt justified a higher sentence.
In May, Cahill determined the facts proved four aggravating factors: Chauvin abused a position of trust and authority, Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty, children were present during the commission of the offense, and Chauvin committed the crime as a part of a group of three or more people.
Only two of those factors were considered in his sentencing decision — Chauvin’s abuse of a position of trust and authority, and his unusually cruel treatment of Floyd.
“It’s one thing to say the factors were present, which is what the determination was a month ago,” MacDonald said. “When it comes to sentencing, in order impose an upward durational departure, you have to determine […] whether it's a substantial and compelling reason not just that it was present.”
KSTP asked MacDonald whether this is an indication of what’s ahead for the other three officers who were on scene on May 25, 2020. Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng face a state trial in March.
“I wouldn't read anything into that,” MacDonald said. “Each of those officers has the right to their own fair trial and the judge is going to do as we've seen him do, he's going to operate in a fair manner at all times. He had to analyze it for the purposes of that particular aggravating factor but I wouldn’t read the tea leaves at all on that.”
During Friday’s proceedings, Judge Cahill listened attentively to each of Floyd’s family members, Chauvin and his mother, and the prosecution and defense. He did not, however, take any notes.
“What we do know based on the timing of when he rendered the sentence and issued the 22-page memorandum, the memorandum was written and the number arrived upon,” MacDonald said. “When he got off the bench and went back into chambers, my expectation was he reflected upon what he had heard and said is this still the right number and determined it was.”
The 22 ½-year sentence is less than the 30-year sentence the state was seeking. However, it is significantly higher than the typical sentence for second-degree unintentional murder, which is 12 ½ years.
On the precedent the sentencing sets, MacDonald said, “It will be out there for the world. As the Rev. Al Sharpton said, this was the longest sentence we received in cases like this but again every case is on its own, has its own facts, its own circumstances and it's incumbent on a judge to remember that at all times. They don’t set anchors, they don’t set ceilings, you have to consider each case separate and individually.”
Chauvin and the other three ex-officers also currently face federal civil rights charges.
“This [sentence] gives the federal authorities more information as to the resolution of the state case in the event that they were to try to negotiate some kind of global resolution or resolution to the federal case,” MacDonald said. “One unknown has been satisfied now and that can go into the Assistant U.S. Attorneys’, U.S. Attorney’s, calculation as to is there a way to resolve this case short of a trial.”
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