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Derek Chauvin To Change His Not Guilty Plea In Federal Case: What To Expect

Originally published on Dec. 13, 2021. Derek Chavuin has pleaded guilty in the federal case, click here for the updated story.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin will be changing his plea of not guilty in his federal civil rights case over the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

The U.S. District Court announced earlier this week that a change of plea hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday morning in St. Paul.

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Former officers Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority on May 25, 2020. The federal trial is set for late January.

All four former officers pleaded not guilty to those charges in September, including Chauvin.

Sources tell WCCO that Chauvin's plea talks have been going on for six months, and at times they have broken down. But Chauvin has now agreed to plead guilty to the civil rights violations in federal court. As a result, we are expecting to hear for the first time from Chauvin about what happened the day he murdered Floyd.

He is also expected to testify not only in the federal trial of the three other officers, but their upcoming state trial that starts in March.

Chauvin was facing a life sentence if convicted on these federal charges. Mike Brandt, a local criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case, tells WCCO the deal could mean Chauvin will get out of prison at some point.

Derek Chauvin Sentencing
Derek Chauvin sentencing (credit: CBS)

"They must have negotiated something that is going to spare him some time, you know, in prison for the rest of his life, so he'll get out at some point and have some life left," Brandt said.

Local civil rights leader Nekima Levy Armstrong says this all could be a good thing.

"I think that is definitely a step in the right direction, that he will have to accept responsibility in a court of law. It's possible that we will have the opportunity to hear from Derek Chauvin about the harm that he caused, and hopefully that will bring a small bit of closure to the family of George Floyd," Levy Armstrong said.


WCCO's legal analyst defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not affiliated with the case, says this move is helpful for the other three former officers.

"Obviously he's talked with his attorney and wants to get this federal case over with," Tamburino said. "Now, he will be separated from (the other three former officers') joint trial. He's admitting guilt. He'll plead guilty and go to prison."

Chauvin is required to speak during the hearing.

"What we will hear from him is an admission. He has to tell the judge, in his own words, that he deprived Mr. Floyd of constitutional rights, the rights to be free from unreasonable seizure by a police officer and the right to be free from unreasonable force by a police officer. That he did it willfully, meaning that's what he wanted to do, and that it led to Mr. Floyd's death. He'll have to admit all of that," Tamburino said.

What isn't expected in court is Chauvin's reasons for doing what he did.

"That usually happens at sentencing, so we won't hear the answer to the question: 'Why didn't you lift your leg up at a certain point?' We won't hear that, but he will have to admit all of the facts," Tamburino said.

While it does help the other former officers by separating Chauvin from their trial, it's not known whether or not he'll testify in their defense.

"The question becomes, after Mr. Chauvin is convicted, he no longer has a right against self-incrimination, so he's available to testify. He could testify on behalf of the other officers, or against them. We don't know," Tamburino said.

During Floyd's arrest, he repeatedly said he couldn't breathe as Chauvin pinned him to the ground. Kueng and Lane helped restrain Floyd; Kueng knelt on Floyd's back, and Lane held Floyd's legs, according to evidence in state court. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

The four officers were also charged in state court, where Chauvin's trial was eventually separated from the others due to space restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chauvin was convicted in April of murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 22 1/2 years. The other three former officers face state trial next March on aiding and abetting counts.

No cameras are allowed in federal court, but WCCO will give full coverage of what transpires during Wednesday's hearing.

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