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Understanding Derek Chauvin's Federal Civil Rights Sentence

By Alex Sirek | Last updated on

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in 2021 of murdering George Floyd, just received a federal prison sentence of 21 years after pleading guilty to civil rights violations.

Chauvin was due to stand trial in federal court before accepting a plea deal in late 2021. This is in addition to already receiving a 22-and-a-half-year sentence in a highly-watched trial in Minnesota state court last year. This post will look at the separate nature of the charges Chauvin faced in federal court.

Chauvin's Multiple Civil Rights Violations

In the federal civil rights case, Chauvin pleaded guilty to two violations of federal civil rights law for Floyd's death in 2020 and causing the bodily injury of John Pope — a then-14-year-old boy — in 2017.

By pleading guilty, Chauvin admitted to willfully depriving Floyd of his civil rights when he knelt on Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes. Specifically, he violated Floyd's 14th Amendment right to not be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

This case was the first instance in which Chauvin admitted that kneeling on Floyd's neck, even when he went unresponsive, and failing to give him proper medical aid resulted in his death. Chauvin did not testify in his state criminal trial, and he maintained his innocence.

Additionally, Chauvin violated John Pope's right to be free from unreasonable force when he held the teenager by his throat and hit him in the head repeatedly with a flashlight. Chauvin went on to kneel on the young boy's neck for 15 minutes.

The brutality that Chauvin admitted to subjecting Pope and Floyd to is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. According to the Constitution, anyone in the United States has the right to be free from excessive force by law enforcement.

Prosecutors pushed for the maximum sentence of 25 years, citing Chauvin's callous attitude and pattern of excessive force. Floyd's brother asked the court for a life sentence.

Will Serve His Sentence Concurrently

Receiving the additional federal sentence does not mean that Chauvin will now spend more than 40 years in prison. He will serve both his state and federal sentences "concurrently," meaning at the same time.

Additionally, the plea deal allows Chauvin to move to a federal prison, which most see as likely to better protect him than the prison in Minnesota, where he had to remain in solitary confinement.

What Do You Do if a Police Officer Violates Your Civil Rights?

If you feel that a police officer violated your civil rights, there are steps that you can take.

Contact a Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer is not a necessary step, but it is a highly recommended one. A lawyer can answer any questions you may have about the process of fighting against police brutality. They can also help to gather further evidence, explain any legal terminology, and assist you in filing a claim. Many lawyers even do pro bono work for victims of police brutality.

Keep a Record of Everything

The more evidence you have, the better off you'll be. Compiling a comprehensive record of any information related to the incident will be incredibly helpful. Though it's incredibly difficult to document this information after an incredibly traumatic event, give it your best shot.

If possible, some information you should document is:

  • The names, badge numbers, and police departments of the officer and any witnessing officers
  • Contact information for other witnesses
  • The date, time, and location of the incident
  • Photos or videos of injuries

Even if you can't record all of this information, any amount will be helpful for an investigation.

Filing a Complaint

While filing a complaint may not seem like much, that is where the process typically starts. Many organizations are ready and willing to take your report, both federally and locally.

Check online and see if there are any police accountability organizations in your community. They can help you with next steps, seeking restitution, and distributing your report to the proper authorities.

If there are none, or you'd simply like even more documentation of your incident, there are two main paths you can take.

Filing a Civil Rights Complaint

Police brutality and excessive force are a violation of civil rights on the grounds of the Fourth Amendment and 14th Amendment. Filing a civil rights complaint under Section 1983 of the United States Code could help you get monetary justice.

Filing a Complaint with the Department of Justice

Filing a complaint with the Department of Justice could help spark an investigation into the officer or officers who committed the offense. These can lead to criminal civil rights charges like Chauvin faced, or it could lead to a lawsuit from the government.

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