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:
Criminal History Score
The other factor the judge will take into account is a person’s criminal history score. The more prior convictions a person has, the more “points” they receive, and the more severe the sentence will be. In Minnesota, a person’s criminal history score is given on a range of “0—6+”. A person with “0” criminal history points will be given a lighter sentence than someone convicted of the same crime with a criminal history score of “1”. A person with a criminal history score of “1” will be given a lighter sentence than a person convicted of the same crime with a criminal history core of “2,” etc. etc.
Because Derek Chauvin does not have any prior convictions, he has a criminal history score of “0”.
Sentencing Guidelines Grid
To figure out what the actual sentence will be, the court will utilize the sentencing guidelines “grid” to determine what sentence to impose. The sentencing grid is a chart that shows a specific sentencing range for an offense when taking into account the severity level of the offense and the person’s criminal history score. Where these two numbers intersect, there is a box which contains a range of months. The judge can sentence someone to any number within the range of months in that box (commonly called the “box score”) without needing to offer any special explanation. The number given in the middle of the specific box is called the “presumptive sentence,” meaning that is what is presumed to be the sentence the judge gives.
What is the Presumptive Sentence for Derek Chauvin’s Convictions?
According to the sentencing guidelines (using the severity level of offense and his criminal history score) the presumptive sentences for each offense are as follows:
Can The Judge Impose A Sentence Higher Than These Guidelines?
Yes. The Judge can impose a more severe punishment and sentence Derek Chauvin to more time in prison than the guidelines presumptive sentence.
How can this happen? A court can impose a sentence that deviates from the sentencing guidelines when there are “substantial and compelling circumstances” present that merit doing so. Deviating from the sentencing guidelines is called a “departure.”
In the case of Derek Chauvin, the State is attempting to prove there were “aggravating factors” present (also referred to as Blakely factors, named after a case called Blakely v. Washington) that make the commission of the charged crimes more severe than typical and allow for an upward departure in sentencing. A few examples of these aggravating factors sought to be proved are:
What Happens if “Aggravating Factors” are Proved?
If the Judge finds that any aggravating factor was proved, the Judge is then permitted to “depart” upwards from the guidelines and sentence Derek Chauvin up to the statutory maximum penalty.
What is the Statutory Maximum?
Each crime has a statutory maximum, meaning there is a specific number of years up to which a judge can sentence someone. Derek Chauvin has been convicted of three different crimes, each carrying a different statutory maximum sentence (but please keep reading, he will only be sentenced on one charge and he won’t get the statutory maximum):
Derek Chauvin was convicted on all charges...can he be sentenced on all of them?
In Minnesota, even though one action by a person—also referred to as a “single behavioral incident”—can result in multiple crimes, typically only one punishment is imposed when there is a single victim. Though Derek Chauvin was convicted of multiple offenses, he will only be sentenced on the most serious count. In this case that is 2nd Degree Murder.
When Will Sentencing Happen?
Sentencing does not happen right after the verdict—it typically happens up to several weeks after a finding of “guilty.” In this case, the Judge has said sentencing will occur in about 8 weeks. During this time, Derek Chauvin will participate in what is called a “pre-sentence investigation” (PSI) where he meets with a probation officer and goes through an interview. The probation officer gathers information about him, his life, and the incident itself. The investigating probation officer can also interview and get information from George Floyd’s family. After this report is completed, copies are sent to the Judge, the prosecution, and the defense. The purpose of the PSI is to provide the court and involved parties with information to help inform sentencing.
After this is done, the court will have a “sentencing hearing.” The court will hear arguments from the defense and the prosecution about what the sentence should be. If Judge Cahill finds that aggravating factors exist, the prosecution may argue for an upward departure from the guideline sentence. Regardless of the presence of aggravating factors, Chauvin’s counsel will likely argue that he should receive a downward departure or lesser sentence than the guidelines require. Judge Cahill will also hear impact statements from the family of George Floyd. At the end of the hearing, the Judge will officially impose the sentence.
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