How to construct a well thought out sentence

In various places on the internet, people have said that 22 years is not enough of a sentence for Chauvin after his murder of Floyd, since serving as little as 10 more years is possible. I am nearly or maybe actually a prison abolitionist in the longer term*1, but I mostly agree with this given our current laws, practices, and resources. 270 months is a LONG time. Where I differ is that (with what I know now, and understanding this might change if Chauvin himself changes) I want him in prison until at least the age of 65 for the safety of the community, and under supervision until the age of 75. That would require a sentence of over 30 years, minimum, assuming that parole boards made (what I currently think would be) appropriate decisions regarding early release. The 30 gets us supervision until age 75, but even that does not give a strong guarantee of release at or about age 65.

Now I justify this in significant part on the fact that he appears to still believe he did nothing wrong. If he does not believe he did anything wrong, he is much more likely to commit another violent crime. But one person over at Wonkette added an additional argument beyond just community safety and lack of remorse for a sentence longer than 270 months:

Most murderers who are convicted of such a deliberate murder would have gotten something closer to life.

Here I disagree. Take this, for instance:

Women receive harsher sentences for killing their male partners than men receive for killing their female partners.

The average prison sentence of men who kill their female partners is 2 to 6 years.

Women who kill their partners are sentenced on average to 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill their partners do so to protect themselves from violence initiated by their partners.

This is the ACLU’s summation of an NCADV sponsored & published study from 1989. I remember that NCADV study well since in the mid 90s a friend of mine did follow up qualitative work on the sentencing factors considered by the courts in such cases. While the data are old, the ACLU article that includes this summary of the study is from 2006 or 2007, originally, and as I consider them a reliable source, I’m of the opinion (unless or until better/newer data come along) that those sentencing trends were likely to still be true in the mid 00s.

The truth is that most murders are not punished so severely. Even the 22.5 years Chauvin got for his specific crime in his specific state included an upward departure from sentencing guidelines of ten years.

I write all this not because I believe that 22.5 years is a harsh sentence (though prison conditions in the US are unusually and cruelly harsh), after all, I’ve said clearly that I want him under some form of supervision until the age of 75.

No, I just want people to understand,
1) that domestic violence murders are often among the most cruel and hateful and torturous murders you can find,
2) DV murders are typically dealt with as manslaughters, even with vast evidence of premeditation & patterns of violence
3) 22.5 years is in fact a longer than usual sentence compared to other deliberate murders and even compared to deliberately cruel murders, indicating that the legal community isn’t taking this lightly, even if the non legal community subjectively feels 22.5 years isn’t very long or isn’t enough or something similar
4) the law absolutely SUCKS in figuring out which murders should be punished more harshly, what with how they give women who kill aggressively violent men those women reasonably fear will kill them not a strongly self defense mitigated sentence, but a vastly enhanced sentence.

Our entire system is trained to think of some murderers as less deserving of punishment and some victims as less deserving of justice. This is baked the fuck in.

1) deny Chauvin a plea bargain,
2) convict on the most serious charge available
3) impose a sentence that is an upward departure from sentencing guidelines

is manifestly unusual for a white person murdering a black suspect in the course of the white person’s law enforcement duties to get such a sentence.

Manifestly. Unusual.

Every instinct of the USA criminal justice system is to treat cops with more lenience, whites with more lenience, and Black persons with less respect to their human value.

In the abstract, I am not happy with the sentence because I have specific goals in mind about ensuring community safety knowing that this man is trained to use a gun and 60 and 70 year olds with training have no more difficulty using a gun than average 30 or 40 year olds. This guy is fucking dangerous, and I want the government to act to prevent that danger from again manifesting.

But in the real world, this is a sentence that we should be happy about. From denial of plea bargain to the aggravating factors considered at sentencing, this is what we have been aiming at from the start: Floyd’s death was not minimized, Chauvin’s culpability was not minimized, and Chauvin’s ongoing threat to the community was not minimized.

We can’t get back Floyd. Nor can we unvictimize all the people who have been traumatized by Chauvin, but this is how a justice system should operate: constrained by the law as it exists, but taking all persons and all factors seriously in a way that has been (and continues to be) too rare.

Anyway, /rant

*1: Discussing abolishing the police, not prisons, the next mayor of Buffalo (she’s won the primary & no Republican is expected to stand a chance in the general), India Walton, gave an interview to the Intercept. They wrote it up like this (in part):

“I am an abolitionist. But I am also realistic enough to know that it can’t happen in one fell swoop. Because we have not built the infrastructure to maintain safety in our communities,” Walton told The Intercept. She acknowledged that her approach has earned criticism from the activist community, adding, “I do tend to be a bit more pragmatic in the way I view things. Governance means that sometimes you don’t always get to do what you believe.”

But in the long haul, Walton said, an abolitionist future “is ultimately the world that I envision for my children — where folks just care for and about one another, and we don’t need police.”

I am open to complete abolition of prisons, but I’m also open to keeping a very, very select few behind bars if, in the context of a vastly improved society, research shows that there are still some people who cannot be prevented from harming people in the community without incarceration for the period of rehabilitation. I believe that in a better society most rehabilitation will be able to be accomplished without incarceration, but I understand both the limits of my knowledge and the limits of imposing a solution like prison abolition without dramatically improving education, social services, the safety net, etc. I do not believe doing away with all policing tomorrow, or even ever, since someone will need to investigate crimes even if they become very rare. But I do think we can manage today with many fewer police than we have, and I believe that with structural changes to society we can manage with even fewer than that.

Call me a pragmatic idealist.





  1. John Morales says

    Call me literal, but those sentences are not the actual time served.

    The actual sentence is the time until parole.

  2. John Morales says

    xohjoh2n, probably, because it seems to me that if plea bargains did not exist, it would be more difficult to convict innocent people. And, conversely, more difficult to sufficiently convict the guilty.

  3. Bruce says

    I believe even progressive Norway still has prisons for some.
    But here’s a key difference:
    In the USA, convicts mostly talk with criminals / convicts, and guards only give orders, not conversation.
    But in Norway, more staff per convict and a focus on actual rehabilitation means convicts have actual conversations with people with better values, who can implicitly suggest better ways to live.
    If Chauvin ever ends up going through 2 or 8 years in prison, he will have no conversations to make him question his current bigoted and anti-civil-rights views. But if in Norway, wardens would make sure he had regular non confrontational conversations with guards who believed the opposite.
    I would rather any convict go through the Norway approach.
    People who want to be good and understand it would be less oppressed by the Norway system, while verbal inducement to reform would be more annoying to a Chauvin than to a good person who made a mistake deserving prison. So a Norway system would be both fairer and more effective.
    But our American values say it would be more cost-effective to lock up Chauvin for life and not hire more decent guards. Sad.

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    Bruce @ 4

    I’m not a Norwegian, but they are a neighbouring country to Finland.

    I have posted links to these documentaries before, but not in this blog. Nordic prisons and prison sentences are different. Also, the police have to get a bachelor’s degree in policing before getting to be a police officer.

    As for the sentence Chauvin got, from the outside it seems consistent with the crime he committed and the long sentences the U.S. has a reputation for. Here in Finland, according to the Criminal Code (the link goes to the Finlex online law website* operated by Finnish Ministry of Justice), a 22,5-year fixed-period sentence wouldn’t be possible (Chapter 2c), 12 years for one crime, 15 years multiple are the limits. Life sentence is possible for murder, manslaughter has a mandatory minimum of 8 years and killing 4 years (Chapter 21). In the code, manslaughter is the base crime, murder is a rather narrowly defined aggravated form of it and killing is manslaughter with extenuating factors.

    * = Some of the laws have been translated into English, the Criminal Code is one of them.

  5. says

    We don’t *officially* have plea bargains here. In fact, they’re actually seen as repugnant; for the reasons people have mentioned already. In practice though it’s always been possible to approach the CPS and offer a plea to a lesser offence. The CPS have guidelines about accepting pleas. See here:

    And of course, prosecutors can’t agree a sentence; that’s always up to the judge. And here prosecutors don’t actually agitate for any particular sentence in any case. They can assist the judge by pointing out guidelines and precedent that may be applicable; but that’s as far as they can go. It’s part of the asymmetry between prosecution and defence. Defence can do everything for their client. Prosecutors are ministers of justice, so they don’t have to seek a conviction in every case, nor try for a particular sentence.

    As for all the conflicts in penal policy. And the different objectives of imprisonment. People have already covered all the relevant issues. But for a really good overview of the topic you still can’t beat Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish”.

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    A note: I said in 5 “mandatory minimum”, which is AFAIK a wrong term, I’m talking about minimum sentences to be given, a first-timer will be imprisoned for half the the sentence before being paroled.

  7. Tethys says

    I’m satisfied that the sentence reflects the crime, and that he was justly prosecuted in the first place.

    Jamar Clark was shot by Minneapolis police in 2015, and those officers were not charged.

    In 2016 Philando Castile was yet another black male murder victim where the officer stood trial, but was not convicted.

    The black Minneapolis police officer who in 2017 shot into the dark and killed the white woman who had called 911, was charged with murder and convicted. She was an Australian named Justine Dumond.

    All of them show the timeline of events that have finally resulted in a white supremacist cop being put in jail. It’s a lot closer to justice, but it took way too many murders via cop, protests, and some burnings and riots to achieve it.

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