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May 5, 2022

Federal judge formally accepts below-guideline sentencing terms of Derek Chauvin's plea deal for civil rights violations

As reported in this post from back in December, Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights violations arising from his murder of George Floyd.  He did so with a plea deal in place that would bind the federal judge to impose a sentence of between 20 and 25 years even though Chauvin's advisory guideline range is life imprisonment.  At the time, the judge deferred acceptance of the plea deal pending preparation of the presentence report.  That report is now in, as this AP piece reports that the plea deal was formally accepted by the court yesterday: 

The judge overseeing the federal civil rights cases of four former Minneapolis police officers in the killing of George Floyd said Wednesday that he has accepted the terms of Derek Chauvin's plea agreement and will sentence him to 20 to 25 years in prison.

Chauvin pleaded guilty December 15 to violating Floyd's civil rights, admitting for the first time that he kept his knee on Floyd's neck — even after he became unresponsive — resulting in the Black man's death on May 25, 2020. The White former officer admitted he willfully deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.

Under the plea agreement, which Chauvin signed, both sides agreed Chauvin should face a sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years, with prosecutors saying they would seek 25. He could have faced life in prison on the federal count. With credit for good time in the federal system, he would serve from 17 years to 21 years and three months behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson deferred accepting the agreement pending the completion of a presentence investigation. He said in a one-page order Wednesday that the report had been issued, so it was now appropriate to accept the deal. He has not set a sentencing date for Chauvin.

Chauvin is already serving a 22 1/2 year sentence for his murder conviction in state court last year, though he is appealing that conviction. He would serve the federal sentence concurrently with the state sentence. The federal plea deal means Chauvin will probably spend more time in prison than he faced under his state sentence. State prisoners in Minnesota typically serve one-third of their sentence on parole, which for him would mean 15 years in prison.

I am inclined to predict that Judge Magnuson will give Chauvin the max that this plea deal permits of 25 years, which would likely mean Chauvin will be in the federal pen until the early 2040s. Based on the state murder conviction alone, he would have likely been out by the mid 2030s.

A few prior related posts:

May 5, 2022 at 10:00 AM | Permalink


This case is unusual in many ways to say the least. But it's an apt illustration of a point I've made many times: The reason defendants and defense lawyers like, and indeed live off, plea deals is that they would lose at trial and come out of it much worse.

It may be that this defendant got a very sweet deal -- but that just reinforces my point. The reason defense lawyers (unlike academics) are fine with bargaining is that it typically gets the client off with a fraction of what his behavior has earned, and what he'd get if he went to trial.

I don't necessarily think this is a good thing, not at all. But it does show that plea bargaining is not just the prosecutor's torture tool that is so frequently portrayed as being. It's actually the defendant's best friend.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2022 11:13:32 AM

I don't think this was a "sweet deal" necessarily. Sure, he could have gone to trial and been convicted and faced a life sentence at sentencing (the same penalty if he pled guilty), but Bill as you are aware, the only real difference would be the 3 levels off for acceptance of responsibility. The presentence report would be nearly identical if he went to trial vs. pleading guilty. True, by pleading guilty they must have a 11(c)(1)(C) agreement that gives the Judge a range from which he can sentence the defendant - 20-25 years in this case. That may be the "sweet part." The concurrent nature of the sentence would be the same if he went to trial too. I've been before Judge Magnuson more times than I can count and he doesn't accept pleas deals that he doesn't feel are fair or within the confines of the law. It will be interesting to see what sentence Chauvin receives.

Posted by: atomicfrog | May 5, 2022 3:57:24 PM

atomicfrog --

I agree that this was not "necessarily" a sweet deal, which is why I said, "It may be that this defendant got a very sweet deal." But I do think he nailed down some advantages he'd probably not get had he gone to trial. He was ice cold on the evidence (as mostly they are).

P.S. How did you come up with "atomicfrog"?

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2022 5:45:32 PM

Bill - That's a good question, but it will remain a mystery for now. There is a good back story to it, one that involves the criminal justice system, but for the time being, I prefer to remain somewhat anonymous on here. Looking forward to reading your comments and thoughts on these various posts.

Posted by: atomicfrog | May 6, 2022 7:58:34 AM

Plea bargains are a "sweet deal" for guilty defendants such as Chauvin. They are a very bad deal for innocent defendants such as me. Guilty and innocent should not be treated alike. Every accused person should get a trial to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.

Innocent people often plead guilty because they don't have the resources to win at trial. Those resources should be provided. As much should be spent on defense as on prosecution.

Future generations will look back on plea bargains with the same sense of horror and shame with which we look back on slavery.

Posted by: Keith Lynch | May 10, 2022 7:58:00 AM

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