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Derek Chauvin appeals his conviction for George Floyd's murder

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's attorney says Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill failed to ensure a fair trial for him.
Court TV via AP/ Pool
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's attorney says Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill failed to ensure a fair trial for him.

One year after he was convicted of murdering George Floyd, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has filed an appeal hoping to overturn the jury's verdict and reduce his sentence.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin last June to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, after he was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin is asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to take one of three actions: toss his conviction and send his case back to Hennepin County; reverse the result and order a new trial in a new venue; or order Chauvin to be sentenced to a lesser punishment.

The appeal comes as a state inquiry slams the Minneapolis police agency

Chauvin's legal team filed its brief with the court on Monday. Two days later, the state of Minnesota issued a much-anticipated report sharply criticizing the Minneapolis Police Department for a "pattern or practice of race discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act," as member station Minnesota Public Radio News reports.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rightsbegan its investigation shortly after Floyd, who was Black, died in May 2020. Widely circulated videos showed Chauvin, who is white, pressing his knee on Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes.

The state's inquiry included a review of 10 years' worth of police policies, training and practices, along with records related to the use of force and alleged police misconduct. It found racial disparities in how officers carry out their duties, along with "MPD officers' consistent use of racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language."

Chauvin's legal team lists a number of grievances in seeking an appeal

In court documents filed this week, Chauvin's attorney, William Mohrman, laid out a number of challenges to his conviction, including a long-held insistence that Cahill should have been moved the trial to another venue because of massive press coverage. Mohrman also said witnesses weren't properly handled and jurors were intimidated by protests and security measures. And he alleges that prosecutorial misconduct and other factors prevented Chauvin from getting a fair trial in the closely watched case.

Chauvin's punishment exceeded the state's minimum guidelines but fell short of the 30-year sentence prosecutors had been seeking. Chauvin's attorneys say Cahill didn't apply the sentencing guidelines correctly. They argue, for instance, that the judge shouldn't have included abuse of a position of authority as an aggravating factor in Floyd's murder.

In his brief to the court, Mohrman also noted that it contains 16,797 words — falling within the 17,000-word limit that Appeals Court Judge Michelle A. Larkin set last week. The attorney had originally asked to file a 20,000-word brief, citing the massive amount of records related to the lengthy trial, including a court transcript of more than 5,900 pages.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's office has 45 days to respond to Chauvin's brief.

Federal proceedings are still ongoing

Chauvin formally announced his intention to appeal last September. Both the police department and Chauvin have also been facing federal inquiries after Floyd was killed in the street outside of a convenience store.

Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal charges in December, admitting to civil rights violations in the Floyd case as well as violating an unnamed 14-year-old's rights in late 2017, when he "held Juvenile 1 by the throat and struck Juvenile 1 multiple times in the head with a flashlight," according to court documents from that case.

The plea agreement in the federal case calls for Chauvin to face a prison sentence of between 20 and 25 years, to be served in federal custody.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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