Derek Chauvin sentencing: What is aggravated sentence? State turns the screw on ex-cop, seeks 30-year jail term

The prosecution team in the case against Chauvin is heavily banking on aggravated sentence for harsher and tougher sentencing of the former police officer


                            Derek Chauvin sentencing: What is aggravated sentence? State turns the screw on ex-cop, seeks 30-year jail term
Derek Chauvin, in his mugshot released from MCF - Oak Park Heights. (Minnesota Department of Corrections)

HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: The prosecution team working on Derek Chauvin's case on April 30, Friday, asked a judge to give Derek Chauvin a longer prison sentence for killing George Floyd. They argued that the crime was cruel enough to be categorized under aggravating circumstances. The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in a crime that took place last year on May 25, during the arrest of George Floyd. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, despite his victim pleading that he could not breathe. By the time the paramedics arrived at the scene, Floyd was neither breathing nor having any pulse. He was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center that same night. 

Chauvin's sentencing has been scheduled for June 25. According to Minnesota's sentencing guidelines, an individual without prior criminal history or record should be sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for second-degree murder. But the prosecutors led by Matthew Frank are seeking to extend Chauvin's sentence for longer by citing 'aggravated sentence' against the former officer. If Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who has been presiding over the trial, agrees to the prosecution's request then Chauvin could potentially be slapped with a maximum of 30 years in prison. The decision will made at 13:30 local time on June 16. Read on to know more about aggravated sentence and why the prosecution is bringing it up in Chauvin's case. 

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Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank exits the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility after the first court appearance of officer Derek Chauvin on June 8, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin, who has been charged in the death of George Floyd, had his bail was set at $1.25M. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

What is 'aggravated sentence'?

According to Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute, an aggravating circumstance refers to "factors that could increase the severity or culpability of a criminal act. Typically, the presence of an aggravating circumstance will lead to a harsher penalty for a convicted criminal. Some generally recognized aggravating circumstances include heinousness of the crime, lack of remorse and prior conviction of another crime. Recognition of particular aggravating circumstances varies by jurisdiction." 

The prosecution team in the case against Chauvin is heavily banking on aggravated sentence for harsher and tougher sentencing of the former police officer. Prosecutor Frank submitted a 26-page memorandum in which he argued that an aggravated sentence is warranted in the case against Chauvin because Floyd was a "particularly vulnerable victim” and “treated with particular cruelty.” Frank also said Chauvin “abused his position of authority,” committed the crime with three or more others and in front of children.

People react after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 In Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Frank pointed at how Floyd was placed in a "vulnerable" position with his hands handcuffed behind his back and his stomach against the ground. "(Chauvin) continued to kneel on Mr. Floyd’s neck and upper back even after Mr. Floyd said he could not breathe 27 times, for almost four minutes after he became nonresponsive, and for approximately three minutes after officers knew that he had no pulse,” Frank wrote. Frank also added that Chauvin failed to render medical aid such as CPR to Floyd despite “obvious” signs that he was in need of medical attention. “… (Chauvin) made no attempt to perform CPR or give Mr. Floyd medical attention, and discouraged others on the scene from providing Mr. Floyd with medical attention.”

The prosecutor also claimed that Chauvin had abused his position as a police officer when he knelt on Floyd and that he did not follow a Minneapolis police principle that states, “in your custody, in your care.” He concluded by pointing out how four of the witnesses were under the age of 18,  with one being just 9-years-old at the time. "Any one of these five aggravating factors would be sufficient on its own to warrant an upward sentencing departure. Here, all five apply," read the prosecutor's request. 

Eric Nelson arguing the case for Derek Chauvin (Court TV screenshot)

Defense Attorney Eric Nelson's response 

Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson filed a 10-page memorandum on April 30, Friday, opposing the prosecution’s request, arguing against each of their five points. Nelson rebutted the prosecution's claims of Floyd being "vulnerable" by pointing out how Floyd was over 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds and said he was resisting arrest. “At the time Mr. Floyd was placed on the ground and restrained, he was not particularly vulnerable and there is no reason for Mr. Chauvin to have suspected that he was,” Nelson wrote.

He then argued how bystanders witnessing Floyd's arrest was not "cruel" because it was voluntary on their part. "Here, none of the witnesses were friends or relatives of George Floyd, nor did any of the witnesses claim to know George Floyd. Importantly, none of the witnesses’ observation of the incident was involuntary … They were all free—and in fact, encouraged by Officer Thao—to leave at any time they wished,” Nelson wrote. To the prosecution’s point that Chauvin committed the crime with three or more others, Nelson said that the three other co-defendants, Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, have not been convicted of a crime yet.

During his trial, Chauvin waived his right to have a jury decide whether his actions merit an aggravated sentence or not, thus leaving it to the judge to decide on the course of action against the former police officer. Chauvin had been on bail, but this was revoked when he was found guilty. He is currently being held at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights

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