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December 16, 2021

Though guidelines recommend federal LWOP sentence for Derek Chauvin, plea deal provides for concurrent sentence between 20 and 25 years

I just got a chance to look at the high-profile federal plea agreement entered yesterday in US District Court in Minnesota in US v ChauvinThis Justice Department press release sets out the basics of the plea and the sentencing particulars:

The Justice Department announced [on December 15] that Derek Chauvin, 45, pleaded guilty in federal court to two violations of a federal civil rights statute.

First, defendant Chauvin pleaded guilty to willfully depriving, while acting under color of law, George Floyd of his constitutional rights, resulting in Mr. Floyd’s bodily injury and death. Defendant Chauvin also agreed that the appropriate sentencing base offense level for this crime is second-degree murder because he used unreasonable and excessive force that resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death, and he acted willfully and in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to Mr. Floyd’s life.

Second, defendant Chauvin pleaded guilty to willfully depriving, while acting under color of law, a then 14-year-old juvenile of his constitutional rights, resulting in the juvenile’s bodily injury....

Defendant Chauvin pleaded guilty [on December 15] before U.S. District Court Senior Judge Paul A. Magnuson.  Defendant Chauvin will be sentenced at a hearing to be scheduled at a later date.  According to the plea agreement, defendant Chauvin faces a sentence of between 20- and 25-years imprisonment.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, defendant Chauvin will serve his sentence in federal custody and will not be eligible to work in any law enforcement capacity following his release.

It is notable, but perhaps unsurprising, that the DOJ press release does not highlight why the terms of Chauvin's plea in fact amount to a pretty good deal given the federal sentencing realities he was facing.  In the wake of his state convictions, Chauvin's federal conviction was a near certainty; as his plea agreement details, here is the likely guideline calculation for Chauvin's offenses: "the defendant's adjusted offense level is 43 and ... [thus] the advisory guideline range is life imprisonment."

Despite the guidelines recommending a federal LWOP sentence, federal prosecutors agreed for Chauvin to a plea deal that binds the federal sentencing judge to these terms (as specified in this Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea): 

The Court should impose a sentence of imprisonment of no less than 240 months and no greater than 300 months (expected to serve no less than 204 months and no greater than 255 months, assuming all goodtime credit);...

The Court, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5G1.3(b)(2), should order that the sentence of imprisonment imposed in this case be served concurrent to the 270-month sentence imposed in State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin,No. 27-CR- 20-I2646 (expected to serve approximately 178 months, assuming all good-time credit); and

At sentencing, the Court, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5G1.3(b)(1), should adjust the sentence for any period of imprisonment/incarceration already served....

I can understand all sorts of reasons for the feds to accept these plea terms, and the agreement notes "the United States intends to advocate for a sentence of 300 months" and that the "agreed sentence is based on the parties' consideration of the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)."  Still, I thought it worth highlighting that this especially notable case is yet another where it seems everyone agrees that the guidelines do not actually guide toward a proper sentence.

A few prior related posts:

December 16, 2021 at 09:02 AM | Permalink


I suspect the main reason Chauvin pled to these counts and agreed to a 11(c)(1)(C) is to limit his exposure. Certainly, without the 1(c)(1)(C) - the court could have sentenced him up to life. Why not pled and limit his sentence to between 240 and 300 months? I would be willing to bet he never would have pled without the 11(c)(1)(C).

Posted by: atomicfrog | Dec 16, 2021 1:43:27 PM

The reason he pleaded guilty was the same reason almost all defendants do: He WAS guilty, and he knew the government had him ice cold on the evidence. To anyone who's been in the system, this is not a big mystery.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 16, 2021 3:45:53 PM

It is hard to comprehend how this travesty could have taken place. So he's convicted in state and then is re-tried in Federal. I know. The charges are slightly different. But if it looks like double jeopardy then it is. No wonder he took a plea. A terrible terrible day in American law.

Posted by: restless94110 | Dec 16, 2021 8:41:01 PM

restless94110 --

Those right-wing headcases Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer, along with four other Justices, beg to differ. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-646_d18e.pdf

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2021 12:19:20 AM

You're right Bill. I'm with Justice Gorsuch - the losing team.

Posted by: beth curtis | Dec 17, 2021 12:48:03 PM

Beth --

If I were back in DOJ, I would not have authorized this prosecution. I see no federal interest here that is not sufficiently satisfied by the state prosecution and the quite substantial sentence. The federal decision to prosecute strikes me as grandstanding. But as a matter of long-settle constitutional doctrine, there was no warrant for the courts to intervene.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2021 3:36:52 PM

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