The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s appeal of his conviction for the 2020 murder of George Floyd. The decision leaves in place Chauvin’s 22.5 year prison sentence for the killing, which sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
In court documents, Chauvin’s attorney argued that his client was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial after a Minnesota judge rejected requests to move the trial to another venue and sequester the jury due to extensive pretrial publicity.
“This was particularly true here when the jurors themselves had a vested interest in finding Mr. Chauvin guilty in order to avoid further rioting in the community in which they lived and the possible threat of physical harm to them or their families,” the appeal stated.
The Supreme Court denied Chauvin’s petition for a writ of certiorari, declining to hear the case without comment, as is typical for the court.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who helped prosecute Chauvin, said in a statement, “We are gratified that justice for George Floyd will stand.” Chauvin’s attorney, William Mohrman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Killing That Shocked the Nation
On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers responded to a call about a man allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. The officers detained George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, and attempted to place him in the back of a squad car.
As Floyd resisted getting into the car, telling officers he was claustrophobic, Chauvin and other officers forced him to the ground and handcuffed him. Bystander video showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd, handcuffed and prone on his stomach, cried out “I can’t breathe” before losing consciousness.
The video sparked outrage across the country. Floyd’s death under the knee of a White police officer reinforced complaints about systemic racism and overly aggressive policing of minority communities. His dying words became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Minneapolis, peaceful protests later erupted into arson and looting. The unrest forced political leaders in the city – and nationwide – to confront demands for policing reform and racial justice.
Trial and Conviction
Chauvin was fired from the police force and arrested days after Floyd’s death. In April 2021, after three weeks of testimony, a jury composed of six white people, four Black people and two multiracial people found him guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
In June 2021, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison, rejecting the prosecution’s request for a 30-year sentence. Cahill said his decision was not attempting to “send any messages” to the public.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Chauvin’s request for a new trial. His attorney had argued that intense pretrial publicity, alleged prosecutorial misconduct and other factors prevented him from getting a fair trial.
The appeals court found sufficient evidence to sustain the convictions and dismissed assertions that publicity had biased jurors against Chauvin. It also rejected allegations of prosecutorial impropriety.
In July, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review the appellate decision, leaving Chauvin with the U.S. Supreme Court as his last option to appeal. The denial Monday brings his state appeals to an end nearly three years after Floyd’s death under his knee.
In a separate federal case, Chauvin pleaded guilty in 2022 to federal civil rights charges over Floyd’s killing. As part of a plea deal that avoided an additional trial, a judge sentenced him last year to 21 years in prison, to be served concurrently with his state murder sentence.
Chauvin subsequently attempted to withdraw his federal plea, arguing there was new evidence and alleging his lawyers were ineffective. Earlier this year, a federal judge denied his motion, though an appeal is still pending in the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the wake of coast-to-coast outrage over Floyd’s death, state legislatures and city councils across the U.S. enacted an array of police reforms. One high-profile change was more bans against chokeholds and neck restraints like Chauvin used on Floyd.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, introduced in Congress in the wake of his murder, would have prohibited racial profiling, restricted no-knock warrants and qualified immunity for officers. But negotiations stalled amid partisan disagreement over the scope of reforms.
Chauvin’s conviction was seen by many as an affirmation that officers can be held accountable for abuses. But debates continue around the country about further changes to rein in police misconduct, eliminate racial bias in law enforcement and reduce the frequency of police violence against Black and brown communities.
Meanwhile, the intersection in Minneapolis where Chauvin killed Floyd now bears his name: George Perry Floyd Square. Murals honor Floyd’s memory and mark the location outside Cup Foods store where he took his last breaths. Though his murder left deep wounds, friends and family say his death catalyzed a new national reckoning on institutional racism in policing.