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June 29, 2021

Federal plea deal on civil rights charges reportedly in the works for Derek Chauvin

This new local press piece, headlined "Derek Chauvin Closing In On Federal Plea Deal, Sources Tell WCCO," reports on an unsurprising but still interesting development in the legal sagas around George Floyd's killing.  Here are the details:

Multiple sources tell WCCO that federal prosecutors are in talks with former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin about a possible plea deal.  They say Chauvin is close to reaching a deal, and that is what he was likely referring to when he made a cryptic comment to the family of George Floyd during his sentencing last week.

“Due to legal matters, I’m not able to give a full formal statement … I give my condolences to the Floyd family, there’s gonna be some other information in the future that will be of interest and I hope these will give you some peace of mind,” Chauvin said prior to his sentencing.

Sources suggest Chauvin was likely referring to a plea deal in the federal case against him.  As part of a possible plea deal Chauvin would have to publicly explain what he did to Floyd and why.  That was, of course, the question that Floyd’s brother poignantly asked of Chauvin at the sentencing....

Sources tell WCCO that, as part of the plea, Chauvin could get a 20- to 25-year sentence, which he would serve at the same time as the state sentence, and that he would serve his time in federal not state prison....

Former Hennepin County Chief Public Mary Moriarity says Chauvin has to be thinking about the swift guilty verdict in the state case, and that may be giving him more incentive to try to negotiate a plea deal.  “That is because, in federal court, there would be a substantial difference between what he would receive if he went to trial and was convicted versus what he would get if he pled guilty, and as they say take responsibility for his actions,” Moriarity said.

It’s important to remember an earlier plea deal involving the feds in late May 2020 collapsed at the 11th hour.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, and WCCO also did not hear back from Ben Crump, the Floyd family attorney, or Eric Nelson, the attorney for Chauvin.

It is, of course, entirely right that Chauvin is far more likely to get a lower sentence (and to be able to cap his sentencing exposure) if he enters into a federal plea deal rather than going to trial on pending federal civil rights charges.  But, unlike in the Minnesota system where there is a strong presumption of release after a defendant serves 2/3 of an imposed prison term, in the federal system the norm is service of at least 85% of imposed prison time.  So if Chauvin's federal deal led to the imposition, say, of "only" a 20-year term, he should still expect to serve a full 17 years, whereas his 22.5-year prison term in the state system could lead to his release in "only" 15 years.

That said, this "release math" is only one part of the equation for Chauvin and his lawyers as they consider a federal plea deal.  I suspect Chauvin, for a variety of reasons, would much rather spend his considerable time in the federal prison system than in state prison.  Also, it is interesting to speculate whether and how a federal plea could impact any appeals Chauvin has planned for his state convictions and sentence.  And, not to be overlooked, there are distinct "second look" or "early release" mechanisms in state and federal systems that could prove significant in the future (which, in turn, makes them relevant now for plea negotiations).

Prior related posts:

June 29, 2021 at 11:18 AM | Permalink


The ultimate hard question is where Derek Chauvin can safely serve his sentence without being a target for violent retribution by many other inmates. He really can't stay in P.C. (protective custody) for 20 years, so where can they safely house him for such a long sentence? One favorite prison for swapping off inmates is the North Dakota state penitentiary, which has only 600 inmates, 2/3 of whom are Native Americans!

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 29, 2021 6:21:33 PM

Don't forget the new "earned time" credits under the First Step Act, which allow for up to 10 days of credit for every 30 days of participation in recidivism-reduction programming. Chauvin's federal civil-rights charge is not an excluded offense from receiving ETC, and presumably his PATTERN score (which purports to measure recidivism risk) will be low, given his age, education, and lack of prior criminal history.

The bigger issue may be whether he can earn in federal earned-time credits if he's serving his time in Minnesota custody.

Posted by: Anon AFPD | Jun 29, 2021 8:06:39 PM

There is no doubt that Minnesota his primary custody of Derek Chauvin, since he was first charged and arrested by Minnesota, long before the Feds ever charged him with violating civil rights under color of law. The Feds won't get primary custody until and unless Chaven paroled by Minnesota in about 15 years.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 30, 2021 1:19:50 PM

When I checked yesterday, I discovered that the North Dakota state penitentiary was rebuilt in 2015, and now houses about 1,500 inmates! It still might be a good place for the Feds and Minnesota to send him to serve his sentence, with minimal risk of getting assaulted or killed by other inmates. It used to be a low key place, where inmates could wear blue jeans or khakis sent in by their families (street clothes) and the inmates and guards addressed one another by their fist names. The local Kiwannas come to the gym every Friday night and bake pizzas to sell to the inmates for a few dollars each. They could eat pizzas and talk with locals from the street in the gym for a few hours. Very low key by penitentiary standards.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 30, 2021 1:26:35 PM

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