10 thoughts on Chauvin’s plea

The Department of Justice sent out a press release yesterday afternoon on the Chauvin plea deal following the hearing before Judge Magnuson yesterday morning. It is posted online here. The release fabricates this quote for Attorney General Garland:

“Defendant Chauvin has pleaded guilty to two federal civil rights violations, one of which led to the tragic loss of George Floyd’s life,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “While recognizing that nothing can repair the harm caused by such acts, the Justice Department is committed to holding accountable those who violate the Constitution, and to safeguarding the civil rights of all Americans.”

I have a few comments and observations, increasingly tentative, that reflect points I have not seen raised elsewhere. I think they are at least worthy of mention.

• Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in state court. The prosecution of Chauvin in the Floyd case has little justification beyond politics. The press release identifies no separate federal interest in the civil rights case against Chauvin. It doesn’t even try. It is simply silent on this point.

• The Department of Justice Manual devotes a section to principles of federal prosecution. The subsection on Initiating and Declining Charges — Prosecution in Another Jurisdiction takes up the question posed in this case. The factors stated support the silence of the government on this point.

• Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and 1/2 years on the state court conviction and agreed to imposition of a sentence between 20 and 25 years in the federal case. Judge Magnuson noted during the hearing, however, that federal sentences generally result in service of 90 percent of the term imposed whereas Minnesota state sentences generally result in service of 2/3 of the term imposed.

• The sentences in the state and federal cases are to run concurrently. The federal case may result in a slightly longer term of incarceration for Chauvin, but the federal case also disposed of a separate federal case against Chauvin involving a former juvenile.

• The plea agreement provides that Chauvin is to serve his sentence in federal custody. I would guess that this is at Chauvin’s insistence and that he deems it a benefit of the agreement.

• The Supreme Court sees no double jeopardy issue in state and federal prosecutions of an individual for the same offense. I believe its most recent opinion on the subject is in Gamble v. United States (2019). The Harvard Law Review note on the case is posted online here.

• The prosecution of the three other officers on the civil rights charges is set for trial before Judge Magnuson next month. Their prosecution on the state court charges has been delayed in light of the federal prosecution. Were it not for the federal case, the state court charges against the officers would already have been tried. The federal case has disrupted the state court proceedings.

• The plea agreement is silent on Chauvin’s possible testimony in the case against the three officers.

• Chauvin’s appeal of the state court convictions continues. Chauvin’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent continues as well.

• Chauvin’s strongest issue on appeal of his state court convictions must be the venue of the case in Hennepin County. If not the strongest issue, it is certainly one of the strongest. If Chauvin were to secure a retrial in another judicial district on appeal and be acquitted on retrial, then what? It’s highly unlikely to happen. Moreover, the dual sovereignty doctrine set forth in the Supreme Court’s double jeopardy jurisprudence should protect the plea agreement and any convictions entered on it from attack. In that sense, when Judge Magnuson enters convictions based on the plea agreement, the federal case against Chauvin should achieve finality that the state court case lacks at this point.

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