Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis cop convicted for the murder of George Floyd, was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on Friday — a capstone to one of the most significant and closely watched police trials in modern history.
Chauvin’s sentence over Floyd’s murder — a death seen by millions around the world in viral footage that prompted widespread outcry in the United States — comes as the country continues to grapple with the legacy of slavery and systemic racism.
Judge Peter Cahill said that while his decision was not based on emotion, sympathy, or public opinion, he wanted to acknowledge "the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family."
Cahill said the case has been painful for Hennepin County, the state of Minnesota, and the country. "But most importantly, we need to recognize the pain of the Floyd family," the judge said. "You have our sympathies."
The sentencing was handed down two months after a jury found Chauvin guilty in April of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder following a nearly three-week-long trial.
"This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability," Ben Crump, the Floyd family's attorney, said in a statement. "For once, a police officer who wrongly took the life of a Black man was held to account."
Crump called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act without further delay, saying that Chauvin's sentence should "usher in a new era of accountability that transforms how Black people are treated by police."
Under Minnesota’s guidelines, Chauvin was sentenced only for the most serious charge against him, which was second-degree murder. Cahill determined that Chauvin had abused his position of trust and authority and treated Floyd with "particular cruelty" — aggravating factors that meant Chauvin could get more prison time than the state’s recommended sentence of 12 and a half years for second-degree murder. The maximum penalty is up to 40 years.
Prosecutors had asked Cahill to sentence Chauvin to 30 years in prison, saying he “brutally murdered” Floyd and that his conduct “shocked the nation.”
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson had asked the judge for a downward departure from the state’s recommendation or probation with time served, describing Chauvin as a "product of a ‘broken' system.”
Before the judge handed down the sentence, the court heard from four of Floyd's family members, including his 7-year-old daughter Gianna, as well as from Chauvin and his mother.
In a video call, Gianna told the court that she missed her father and asked about him all the time. She said she wanted to play with him and recalled how he always helped her brush her teeth.
When asked what she would tell her father if she saw him, she said, "I miss you and I love you."
Floyd's brothers, Terrence and Philonise Floyd, asked the judge for the "maximum penalty" for Chauvin, saying that their family, especially Gianna, needed closure.
"My family and I have been given a life sentence," a tearful Philonise Floyd told the judge. "We will never be able to get George back."
Terrence Floyd, who was overcome with emotion while addressing the judge, said that his family was seeking the maximum sentence for Chauvin, saying, "We don't want to see no more slaps on the wrist... In my community and culture, we've been through that already."
Chauvin also addressed the court, saying that while he could not give a formal statement due to ongoing legal issues, he said, "I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family."
He also referred to "some other information in the future that would be of interest," telling the Floyd family, "I hope things will give you some peace of mind."
It was unclear what Chauvin was referring to, but he is facing federal charges for violating Floyd's civil rights.
In her first public remarks, Chauvin's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told the court that her son is a "quiet, thoughtful, honorable and selfless man" who has a "big heart and has always put others before his own."
Pawlenty said that Chauvin has "played over and over in his head, the events of that day, and I've seen the toll it has taken on him."
She told the judge that a lengthy sentence "will not serve Derek well" and that "when you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me."
Pawlenty, who did not mention Floyd or his family members during her comments, addressed Chauvin in court, saying, "Derek, I want you to know I've always believed in your innocence and I will never waver from that."
She said it was difficult for her to see that people thought him to be an “aggressive, heartless, and uncaring person” and his identity “reduced” to that of a racist.
"I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man," she said.
She concluded her remarks by telling Chauvin, "Remember, you are my favorite son."
Hours before Chauvin's sentence, Cahill denied his motion for a new trial and turned down a request for a hearing over alleged juror misconduct.
The prosecution’s case against Chauvin was bolstered by excruciating cellphone and body camera videos that showed the jury — and the world — how the 20-year police veteran violated his department’s policy and training to press his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as the Black man repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.”
It is rare for police officers to face severe charges for on-duty killings and even rarer for them to be convicted. Chauvin is only the eighth cop convicted of murder among the 142 nonfederal officers who were charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty killings since 2005, according to an Associated Press report that cited data collected by Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson. The officers convicted of murder were sentenced to an average of 16.4 years in prison, whereas the average sentence for a murder conviction in the US was just over 48.8 years as of 2018, the AP reported.
In 2019, former Minneapolis cop Mohamed Noor was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison after he was convicted on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of an unarmed woman. In 2019, a judge gave ex–Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke a sentence of almost seven years, of which he is expected to serve only three, for a second-degree murder conviction in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Prosecutors had recommended 18 to 20 years for Van Dyke and were later unsuccessful in their attempts to get the Illinois Supreme Court to resentence him.
It has been a little more than a year since Chauvin killed Floyd outside a store over a report that he had paid with a counterfeit $20 bill. His murder helped to reignite the Black Lives Matter movement that continues to seek to reshape policing in the US while addressing other racial justice issues.
Some states have cut police budgets and passed laws limiting police’s violent tactics, with many hoping Chauvin’s guilty verdict would be a turning point for holding law enforcement officers accountable in the US.
But others have questioned whether there has been true racial reckoning in the country. Since Floyd’s death, police violence has persisted, and at the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act remains stalled in the Senate.
Several Republican-controlled states have also passed voter suppression laws as a culture war rages over conservatives’ efforts to ban lessons and conversations about slavery, race, and racism in schools.