Conviction of Derek Chauvin: responsibility, not revenge

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The purpose of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines, the state law says, is “to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards that promote public safety, reduce sentencing disparities and ensure that the penalties imposed for felony convictions are commensurate with the seriousness of the sentencing offense, and the criminal history of the offender ”.

Where is Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of the murder of George Floyd, here? Chauvin is set to be sentenced on Friday, June 25 in the case which sparked widespread nationwide protests against police brutality and riveted the nation in a televised jury trial that resulted in a conviction for three charges. The most serious was unintentional second degree murder because he killed Floyd “with intent … but without premeditation.”

In determining the sentence, the other two counts — third degree murder and second degree manslaughter — will be combined under the main charge and the sentences will be served concurrently. What is a fair and equitable punishment for these crimes?

Proportionality in the Minnesota Guidelines

Proportionality is key, says Minnesota law. Offenders found guilty of the same crimes should receive the same penalties. And the sentence should match the crime, not the criminal, except to the extent that previous criminal convictions may make the sentence heavier. (Chauvin has a clean criminal record. Pending federal charges will not be counted.) The personal attributes of the criminal do not matter, only the “seriousness of the criminal offense” that has been committed.

The Minnesota guidelines, when enacted in 1980, were at the time at the forefront of “sentencing,” an approach to criminal sanctions aimed at standardizing sentences to reduce wide disparities. Previously, and as is still the case in many states, a judge had extremely wide latitude in choosing the sentence, whether it was probation and victim restitution or a long prison sentence.

This has created great differences in the punishment of offenders convicted of the same crime under state criminal law. Arguing that the disparities clearly reflected racial and economic prejudices because minorities and the poor mostly received the highest sentences, reformers demanded that criminal penalties be based almost exclusively on the severity of the crime and the criminal record of the offender, and judges are generally required to rely solely on these factors in setting sentences.

As to proportionality to the seriousness of the crime, the sentencing law aimed to restrict the impulses of judges to punish with severe prison terms surrendering to demands for revenge from the victim or the public. Such penalties would create mass incarceration with little benefit to public safety.

So what will happen to a convicted offender like Derek Chauvin when he is convicted under this system? Sentencing guidelines for his crimes presume a 15-year prison term. This is the sentence presumed to be proportionate to the crime of unpremeditated murder.

In other words, Chauvin will be punished because, during the fight with Floyd, he decided to put down the restless man and let him die. He will not be punished for being a racist, or because he is a symbol of the structural injustice so evident in too many police practices today. He will be sentenced like other people who commit second degree murder, unless the judge finds special “aggravating” or “mitigating” reasons for deviating from the prescribed 15-year prison sentence.

Aggravating or mitigating factors

In a recent ruling, Judge Peter Cahill said four of these aggravating reasons had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial: Chauvin abused his position of trust and authority, he acted with particular cruelty , he acted in concert with three other people, and he committed the crime in the presence of children (four spectators who observed the fight). These factors could increase the seriousness of the crime beyond ordinary proportionality and call for harsher penalties. Cahill paved the way to extend Chauvin’s prison sentence to 30 years in prison. But he doesn’t have to.

Prosecutors, of course, argued for the application of these four factors, concluding in their brief in court that this “would take due account of the profound impact of the accused’s conduct on the victim, the victim’s family and the community[andtheshockedawarenessoftheprotestagainstChauvin’sdefenselawyers”[etlaconsciencechoquéedelanationLesavocatsdeladéfensedeChauvinontrépliquéin their own memory: “Behind politics, Mr. Chauvin is still a human being.”

Cahill will decide whether to meet the calibrated sentences prescribed in Minnesota’s sentencing law or determine that Chauvin’s actions were significantly worse than those of other second degree murderers.

If all the other cases were analyzed in depth for particularly bad circumstances, they could probably also give such conclusions, because by definition the murder of another human being is a horrific act and the repulsion and indignation of the public s ‘follow. But that is precisely why these sentencing guidelines were promulgated – to curb the tendency to revenge and demand proportionality between the offense and the sentence as well as between offenders convicted of the same. crimes.

How the judge will decide

If Cahill follows the guidelines, he will sentence Chauvin to 15 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after serving 10 years. He could give Chauvin credit for the year he has already spent in prison awaiting trial, but given that Chauvin did not plead guilty when the evidence was so clear, perhaps he does. will not.

Ironically, those who advocate for the highest possible sentence in Chauvin’s case are faced with the fact that Minnesota law was designed to prevent harsh sentences from people who have committed serious crimes but are vulnerable to additional penalties due to outcry against marginalized groups. In the latter case, the groups are the poor and minorities. In Chauvin’s case, the group is the police.

If Cahill’s job performance in the criminal trial is any indication, he will push the extremes and sentence Chauvin to 15 years with no credit for time served.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Info

Candace mccoy is professor of criminal justice at the Graduate Center and John Jay College, City University of New York. She was also the director of policy analysis for the Inspector General of the New York City Police Department. She is the author of “Politics and Plea Bargaining”.

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