After a year of protests, fear and a week-long trial, former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd.
The jury found that by kneeling on Floyd's neck until Floyd's death, the embarrassed ex-cop had committed accidental second-degree, third-degree, and second-degree homicide – although he was likely only for the reasons explained below there is time before the jail for the first of these three charges.
Shortly after Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict and confirmed that each of the jurors supported Chauvin's three convictions, the judge announced that he would convict Chauvin in eight weeks. Court officials will spend most of that time conducting a preliminary investigation, a process that examines both Chauvin's background and the circumstances surrounding his crime, to inform Cahill's verdict.
Judge Cahill also overturned Chauvin's bail and ordered him to be remanded, meaning he will spend the time between his conviction and his conviction behind bars.
How much time is Chauvin likely to spend in jail?
Chauvin's sentence length is somewhat unclear, in part because Minnesota Cahill's sentencing guidelines likely allow a reasonable amount of discretion to increase Chauvin's sentence to the legal maximum.
Although Chauvin was convicted of violating three different criminal laws, he will likely serve his sentences for all three crimes at once, which means those sentences will all be imposed at the same time. This is because, while Chauvin was convicted of three different offenses, he did not commit three separate offenses. He committed one – the murder of George Floyd – that violated three different criminal laws.
The most serious of the three crimes for which he was convicted is unintentional second degree Murder. Although state law provides that the maximum sentence for this crime is 40 years, Minnesota judges tend to base their sentences on the state's sentencing guidelines rather than the maximum statutory sentences.
To determine the correct sentence under these guidelines, a judge usually begins with a grid that determines the “presumed sentence” based on the crime for which someone has been convicted and their previous criminal history.
Since chauvin has no prior criminal conviction, his "Criminal History Value" is zero under state sentencing guidelines. Therefore, his basic sentence for accidental second degree murder is 150 months or 12.5 years.
However, that is not the end of the process. The guidelines also allow a judgment judge to increase an offender's sentence if a jury determines that one or more aggravating factors made the crime particularly serious. Alternatively, the judge can make this decision if the accused waives the right to appoint a jury. Chauvin has waived this right.
Prosecutors allege that several aggravating factors were present when Chauvin murdered Floyd, including the presence of children, that Chauvin acted with "particular cruelty" and that Chauvin "abused his position of authority".
If Cahill consents to prosecution on any of these points, he has a reasonable degree of freedom to determine the appropriate sentence, up to a maximum of 40 years. According to the Guidelines, if a judge deviates from the presumed sentence for a particular offender, that deviation is "not controlled by the Guidelines, but is an exercise of discretion limited by law or case law".
Can chauvin challenge his belief?
Under Minnesota law, a chauvin has the right to appeal his conviction or conviction to a state appeals court, and the state appeals court must hear and pass judgment on that appeal. Typically, a defendant can appeal any case against which he or she has objected at the trial level. So it remains to be seen what specific issues Chauvin's attorney brings up on appeal.
One issue that is likely to come up on appeal is a statement by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in which the member of Congress suggested that protesters “stay on the streets” and “become more confrontational”.
Late in the trial, defense attorney Eric asked Nelson Cahill to declare a mistrial over Waters' testimony, alleging that doing so could have prejudiced the jury against his client. Although Cahill described Waters' testimony as "disrespectful to the rule of law and the judiciary", he declined the petition for a lawsuit, noting, among other things, that the jury was instructed to avoid news reports.
Nonetheless, Cahill also noted that Waters' comment "may have given you something on appeal". (President Joe Biden also suggested in a public statement earlier in the day that the evidence against Chauvin is "overwhelming," but he made those comments while the jury was being confiscated so it is highly unlikely that the judges would know .)
Realistically, an appeals court is unlikely to question Cahill's decision to move the process forward. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that, in extreme cases, news reports can affect a jury so badly that their decision to convict a defendant is invalid, such claims are typically denied.
As the Court most recently stated in Skilling v. The United States (2010), "A court's findings on the impartiality of the jury can only be overturned because of an apparent error." As a general rule, appeals courts are advised to grant the trial judges respite in cases where jury prejudice is invoked, as the trial judge can better observe the jury and determine if the jury is tainted in any way.
If appeals courts have been too quick to overturn convictions because a public figure has voiced an opinion on the case, it is doubtful that a high-profile conviction could stand. As the Supreme Court warned more than 140 years ago:
(E) Every public interest case is almost necessarily brought to the notice of all intelligent people around, and hardly any can be found among those best suited to jurors who have not read or heard about it, and who has not Impression or opinion regarding his merits.
That warning is even more true today, and this is especially true of the chauvinist process that sparked months of protests in cities across the country. It was inevitable that jurors would have read about this case and possibly heard other people's opinions on it before becoming empowered. Given the extraordinary amount of coverage surrounding this trial, it is unlikely that Waters' comment was the tipping point that led a juror to condemn chauvin – if the jury was even aware of that comment.
Will there be a civil lawsuit against Chauvin?
Last July, attorneys representing George Floyd's family filed a civil lawsuit against Chauvin, the city of Minneapolis, and three other former officials who allegedly contributed to Floyd's murder – – Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. The lawsuit alleges that these former officials "used excessive and lethal force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and clearly established law."
The city agreed to settle that case last month for a staggering $ 27 million, but the lawsuit against the four former officials remains.
Realistically, it is not clear how much money is actually at stake in the lawsuit against the ex-cops. Any of these four people are unlikely to have deep pockets, especially after they have all hired a lawyer to defend them in criminal proceedings. But that civil lawsuit could justify Floyd's family further.
It is also unclear whether this civil lawsuit will be resolved anytime soon. The defendants asked the judge to stay the case "until parallel criminal proceedings against the individual defendants have been settled." The three remaining officers are expected to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd's murder.