A newly reduced prison sentence for a former Minneapolis police officer who was originally convicted of third-degree murder for killing a white woman has prompted speculation about the legal implications it has for Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of the same charge for killing George Floyd, a Black man.
Mohamed Noor, who was convicted for the 2017 shooting death of Justine Damond, on Thursday had his prison sentence of 12-and-a-half years vacated before he was re-sentenced for second-degree manslaughter to nearly five years in prison, less than half of his original sentence of 12 and a half years. His sentence reduction came more than a month after the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned his prison sentence. The court agreed with the argument from the defense that the prosecution did not prove Noor acted “without regard for human life.”
Noor’s re-sentencing means that Noor — who has served nearly a year and a half of his original sentence — will now be eligible for release from prison on June 27, 2022, less than a year from now. Had the Minnesota Supreme Court not overturned his conviction, the earliest he’d be eligible for release would have been about in about seven years.
While the circumstances surrounding the murders that netted guilty verdicts for Noor and Chauvin are decidedly different, the charges they were convicted of are very similar, suggesting it’s only a matter of time before Floyd’s killer receives the same legal treatment upheld on Thursday by Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance.
Some legal experts agree with that sentiment.
“It’s crystal clear now that Derek Chauvin cannot be [guilty] of murder three,” Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last month after Noor’s sentence was overturned.
“Chauvin will likely have his decision reversed because it is legally incompatible to say that someone is guilty of intentionally doing something and at the same time they’re guilty of unintentionally doing something,” Andrew Wilson, a partner at Wilson Criminal Defense in Minneapolis, told VICE News.
On July 15, 2017, an Australian woman named Justine Damond called 911 to report a possible rape in her neighborhood. She said she believed she heard a woman being assaulted in an ally behind her home. Noor, who was one of the officers responding to the call, shot the woman after she approached the squad car in the alley while he and his partner were looking for clues and evidence of the reported rape.
On May 25, 2020, Chauvin responded to the nonviolent report of Floyd using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store by employing a brutal kneeling restraint on the suspect’s neck for nearly nine minutes, killing him in the street while onlookers recorded the murder in broad daylight. On April 20 of this year, Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder conviction, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On June 25, Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison.
During the sentencing hearing, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill decided against adjudicating the two lesser charges and said the one count of unintentional second-degree murder for which he was sentencing included 10 additional years for aggravating factors, including employing “particular cruelty.”
It was that “particular cruelty” that will likely prevent Chauvin from having his own third-degree murder conviction overturned and sentence reduced like Noor, former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said.
“Do I think that argument will be successful?” she asked rhetorically. “No.”
Chauvin is apparently already plotting his own appeal and just this week retained the services of a Minneapolis law firm, presumably under that guise, according to local news outlet KSTP. The Minnesota Supreme Court suggested Chauvin was lying about his purported inability to pay for a lawyer to appeal his convictions. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea earlier this month “signed the order rejecting Chauvin’s claim that he’s too poor” and needs to be represented by a public defender, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported at the time.
Gildea was apparently right since Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A. will now be representing the convicted murderer.
Appealing his very recent convictions for third-degree murder, second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter should be the least of Chauvin’s worries right now. After all, he’s got federal charges to deal with first.
Chauvin had the audacity last month to plead not guilty to two counts of federal civil rights violations in a case that alleges he assaulted a teenager in 2017. One count claims Chauvin “held the teenager by the throat and struck the teenager multiple times in the head with a flashlight.” The other count alleges Chauvin “held his knee on the neck and the upper back of the teenager even after the teenager was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting, also resulting in bodily injury.”