Why was Chauvin sentenced to 22 years?

I found an informative thread on Twitter that explains how the judge arrived at that number. It was a reasonable sentence at the high end of the allowed sentencing guidelines. The judge was not generous.

To summarize, there is a precedent of prior court decisions with establish an allowed range of sentencing, and if a judge were to step way outside the bounds of that range, they’d be providing grounds for overturning their decision. So the judge’s hands are tied to a certain degree.

That doesn’t mean the guidelines are free of bias, however. For example, one factor they’re supposed to take into account is your prior convictions — you’re guilty of lots of crimes in the past, so therefore you’re justified in increasing the allowed range of punishments. If you’re a first offender, the judge has to bump the range down.

Derek Chauvin had zero prior convictions.

Where that is unfair and biased is that we’ve had this idiotic “war” on drugs going on for decades which is unfairly applied by the police, which means that if you’re a black person, you’re much more likely to stack up a record of offenses which will then automatically be used to increase the severity of sentencing against you. Being a white cop means you get to start with a clean slate, making it easier to skate when you do commit a serious crime. “Repeat offender” laws seem superficially just, but are also ways to selectively target oppressed minorities.


  1. says

    Yep. I was writing about this as well. The twitter thread is very linear, but does provide some facts I leave out.

    The actual sentencing memo is quite interesting for those who like that sort of thing. (I read it all, of course.)

    It boils down to this, though. If you want to depart upward from the expected sentencing range, you have to find an aggravating factor existed in this crime (the court found 4) and that those factors constituted a “substantial and compelling” reason to provide a longer sentence than expected by the guidelines (the court found 2 of the 4 aggravating factors “substantial & compelling”).

    Once an aggravating factor has been found substantial & compelling, then the court has discretion to adjust the sentence upward, but if it boosts it upward too far then the sentence may be overturned, and appellate courts may actually redirect the recently convicted person to be sentenced within the expected range, not merely reduce the sentence somewhat but still over the expected range.

    Thus the judge here looked at what other sentences might be like for a crime like this and found … no crimes like this. But he made his best guess based on more general averages of people whose sentence was adjusted upward for one or two aggravating factors. Those sentences suggested that even with substantial & compelling reasons to deviate upwards, 270 months would be near the upper end of the range if the judge did not want to hand the defendant grounds for a successful appeal.

    The judge worked hard & used good reasoning & good legal writing to develop what appears to someone not versed in Minnesota criminal law to be a solid argument. I really like the memorandum, and get the impression that the sentence is pretty solid. So long as the conviction isn’t overturned, I doubt the sentence will be.

  2. says

    So under current law, he’s up for parole in 15 years. I’m not even sure he’s going to go that far before he walks. I think he’s going to serve 6 max. That’s where my head’s at.

  3. drew says

    Works out to about 14 prison days per neck second. It’s punishment. It’s law.

    Justice, given we don’t have time machines, would involve cop rehabilitation, both individual and also generally making sure nobody else gets Floyded ever again. But that would stop police murders. And that justice is therefore against the law.

    Celebrate this if you will but it is not victory.

  4. Alverant says

    The only reason why he has no prior record is because cops protected him when he brutalized other suspects.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I throw in an unrelated metaphor of [breaking the glass ceiling] where the glass ceiling is that barrier protecting LEOs from being prosecuted for overuse of deadly force. This judge smashed that ceiling, sentencing him as high as he could with as little risk of getting overturned as possible. I hope it establishes a precedent that the barrier no longer exists.

  6. rrhain says

    @4, Alverant: Precisely. He has a record of excessive force, but it is only because he was protected by the system that he was never held accountable. Let us not forget, the Minneapolis Police Department was engaged in an active cover-up of Floyd’s death. The official report released after indicated that there was merely an “incident” and lied by saying that Floyd died not at the scene but rather after he received treatment (that being another lie in that Chauvin refused to allow treatment during the time he was killing Floyd).

    The question now is: When do we find the rest of the department who engaged in the cover-up guilty for their crimes?

    Oh, that’s right: Never. It was a “bad apple.” Chauvin was a one-off. Unique. Nothing to see here.