Prosecution’s Supplemental Argument for Enhanced Sentences for Defendants in George Floyd Criminal Cases

On October 12, the State of Minnesota submitted additional arguments for enhanced sentences for the four former policemen in the event they are found guilty of murder and/or manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. [1]

Background for This Submission[2]

On August 28, the State submitted its Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure in all four of these criminal cases. It alleged that Floyd was particularly vulnerable and was treated with particular cruelty by Chauvin, that Chauvin abused his position of authority, committed the crime as part of a group of three or more offenders who actively participated in the crime and in the presence of multiple children. (Similar assertions were made in notices in the other three criminal cases.)

This notice in the Chauvin case was submitted in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 2996 (2004), which held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial can be violated any time the court imposes a sentence greater than that called for in the guidelines, even when the sentence imposed is below the maximum punishment permitted by the legislature.

This submission by the prosecution was argued at the September 11, 2020, hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank argued that Floyd was particularly vulnerable because he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground. Judge Cahill expressed some skepticism of this point by asking whether what happens during an encounter qualifies for this purpose.

In its Notice of Intent To Offer Other Evidence of 9/10/20, the State said it intended to offer evidence of Chauvin’s eight prior instances of use of excessive force, including use of neck and upper body restraints.  In four of those, Chauvin allegedly used them “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstance,” an indication of his pattern, including his restraint of Floyd.

Details of Supplemental Submission

 The supplemental submission answered “yes” to two questions posed by the Court at that hearing.

  1. “Whether the particular vulnerability of the victim justifies an upward sentencing departure when the defendants are responsible for creating the victim’s vulnerability?”

Under Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines 2.D.3.b(1), “When a defendant commits a crime against a victim who was “particularly vulnerable due to . . . reduced physical or mental capacity, and the offender knew or should have known of this vulnerability,” an upward sentencing departure is permissible.”

That standard is met in the current cases because the defendants “handcuffed Floyd’s arms behind his back, pressed him chest-down into the pavement, and rendered him unconscious. As a result, Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” when Defendants committed the crime, and Defendants knew or should have known as much.”

Moreover, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in six cited cases has “upheld the application of this enhancement where the victim became “particularly vulnerable” as a result of a defendant’s actions.”

  1. Whether a defendant’s abuse of a 27-CR-20-12646 Filed in District Court State of Minnesota 10/12/2020 3:09 PM 2 position of authority supports an upward sentencing departure even if there is not a pre-existing relationship of trust between the defendant and the victim?”

The Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in cited cases have upheld upward sentencing departure where there are “power imbalances” even when there is no pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and the victim “so long as the defendant holds either a’a position of trust or [a] position of authority.”

Here, “as police officers in full uniform, Defendants had a ‘defined relationship’ of authority over Floyd, and were ‘in a position to dominate and control’ him. . . . That ‘position of control” ’allowed them to handcuff and restrain Floyd, and therefore to ‘manipulate the circumstances and commit the crime.’”

Reaction to This Submission

Earl Gray, Lane’s defense attorney, said the request for an upward sentencing departure is an attempt to poison the potential pool of jurors. “They first have to get a conviction,” he said. The other defense counsel had no comments or could not be reached.

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[1] Supplemental Brief in Support of Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Oct. 12, 2020); Olson, Prosecutors want stiff sentences for ex-cops charged in George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Oct. 13, 2020).

[2] State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Chauvin, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12646 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020), State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Lane, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12951 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Kueng, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12953(Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020); State’s Notice of Intent To Seek an Upward Sentencing Departure, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949 (Hennepin County District Court Aug. 28, 2020).  See also Preview of the 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 10, 2020); Results of 9/11/20 Hearing in George Floyd Criminal Cases, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 12, 2020).