Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all counts, so now the next step in his trial process is for a sentence to be imposed. While the jury determines whether a defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty, it is the Judge that imposes the sentence.
In Minnesota, courts impose “determinate” sentences, meaning the date of release from prison can be predicted based on the sentence imposed after a criminal trial (or plea). Although every crime has a statutory maximum (more on what that means below), that is not what determines the sentence. To figure out what a person’s sentence will be for a specific crime or conviction, the court system uses the “Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines”. To determine a person’s sentence, the court takes two factors into consideration:
Severity Level of Offense
Each type of crime is given a “severity level score” ranging from 1—11, with “1” being the least severe type of crime (ex: fleeing from police), and “11” being the most severe type of crime (ex: 1st degree murder).
In the case of Derek Chauvin, the severity level of each offense is as follows:
Derek Chauvin's conviction on 2nd Degree Murder, 3rd Degree Murder, and 2nd Degree Manslaughter is an important step towards accountability for the deep harm caused when he and the other three former MPD officers took George Floyd's life. While this verdict will not bring back George Floyd or address the deep and pervasive harms inflicted on BIPOC communities by our criminal legal system, it does represent a significant milestone in our community's quest for police accountability. Our criminal legal system is not designed to hold white police officers accountable for killing Black men. And yet, today, following a traumatizing trial process, there is some measure of accountability.
It is important to note that, in their effort to secure the conviction of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office and MN Attorney General's Office built a narrative throughout the trial indicating that Chauvin's actions do not represent the Minneapolis Police Department, that he dishonored his badge. In their closing statement, they described this case as a "pro-police prosecution", telling the world that Derek Chauvin does not represent MPD. And yet, our communities and the countless clients LRC has represented over the past 51 years know a different reality to be true. Police violence and dehumanization is the norm for our communities and clients. Meaningful police accountability will not be realized until our elected officials and broader community reckon with this truth.
As Derek Chauvin’s case progresses towards sentencing, the LRC will continue to support our communities through the dissemination of legal educational materials and support for restorative processing of this trial. In the coming days, we are likely to see tense interactions between community members and the increased law enforcement presence in the Twin Cities. We stand in solidarity with community members expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, ready to support those who have protest-related legal concerns. The LRC will continue to support our BIPOC communities in the fight for justice.
The Youth: Education, Advocacy, and Restorative Services (YEARS) team at the Legal Rights Center is hiring for two positions:
The Legal Rights Center was created by communities of color working in coalition; a diverse staff best meets the needs of our communities.
The sole charge of 2nd Degree Manslaughter brought against former Officer Kim Potter for the killing of Daunte Wright demonstrates a significant failure by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput to pursue and seek justice for Mr. Wright on behalf of our communities, and a dereliction of their responsibility to hold police accountable.
The Legal Rights Center (“LRC”) condemns the charging decision by the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and strongly urges Governor Walz to take immediate action and direct Attorney General Keith Ellison to assume responsibility for the case going forward. An appropriate charging decision would, at the very least, mirror the charging decision made against former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor who was charged with 2nd Deg. Murder, 3rd Deg. Murder and 2nd Deg.Manslaughter for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
A 2nd Degree Murder charge would better reflect what we all witnessed in the body-worn camera footage released on Monday, and would reflect the community’s belief that former officer Potter’s actions were not merely a mistake.
We are also concerned with Washington County Attorney Pete Orput’s role in the prosecution of this case. Orput serves as legal counsel to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, an unacceptable bias that should serve as an obvious conflict of interest. This case should not be prosecuted by a County Attorney who has no elected accountability to the residents of Hennepin County and who simultaneously advises the chiefs of police who have a vested interest in the outcome of the case that his office is now tasked with prosecuting.
There are also disturbing inconsistencies in the role that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (“HCAO”) has played in determining charges against law enforcement involved in the killing of our community members. Despite a June 2020 agreement to refer these cases to other offices for prosecution—the rationale cited for passing responsibility for this case to the Washington County Attorney—the HCAO made their own decisions not to charge police officers involved in the killings of Kobe Dimock-Heisler and Chiaser Vue. The inconsistency is glaring. The LRC demands that the exact terms of the agreement be made public, and that the rationale for which cases are referred and which cases remain at the HCAO be made public.
In the shadow of the continuing trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, and on the same day that hundreds of grieving, yet still resilient, community members marched and rallied in St. Paul to demand justice for Justin Teigen and all lives lost to police, 20-year-old father of one Daunte Wright was gunned down by police after a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, MN.
Just as in the murder of George Floyd, the circumstances that led to Mr. Wright being shot at point-blank range by a police officer reflect the deep and pervasive harms of our law enforcement systems. Mr. Wright was stopped for having expired tabs. Whether he had a warrant or not, this should never have resulted in his death. Fleeing police does not merit a death sentence.
The LRC is deeply saddened by yesterday’s events in Brooklyn Center. Our hearts and thoughts are with the family of Daunte Wright and all who knew and loved him. Once again, Black parents have to grapple with and process the death of a young Black man and explain it to their children. Today and everyday, our Black community must confront the reality that police might kill them, just for living. As our community takes to the street to demand justice, we demand that force not be used against protesters, and that deadly force not to be used at all, whatever the circumstance.
The LRC was born from movements in African American and American Indian communities that shared the common experience of police violence, along with racial and culturally based oppression – and sought its own tool for advancing justice. Soon after, we were joined by the growing immigrant communities who experienced much of the same.
While oppression takes many forms, all our communities deeply feel the weight of the disregard for our individual humanity that so often pervades our systems, impacts our daily lives in vastly disproportionate ways, creates harmful inequity for our children, and forces communities of color to be unduly vigilant about physical risks on a daily basis – including the very real risk of unnecessary death by police.
The LRC stands with all communities and allies seeking criminal justice reform. We stand with the families of Daunte Wright, George Floyd, Justin Teigen, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Terrence Franklin, and all lives lost to police.
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