TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – From start to finish, the job of a judge during a trial holds epic responsibility. A judge listens the most, talks the least and determines the defendant’s future.
It’s a lot of hours, a lot of reading and a lot of stress.
Just ask retired Hillsborough County Judge Scott Stephens.
“At the end of the day, it’s just you. You feel alone, no matter how much help you get in the end,” Stephens said. “It’s the responsibility for the judge to make the right decision.”
He knows how difficult it is being on the bench in a high-profile case. And, in the Derek Chauvin case, every move the judge made was being dissected, debated and watched all over the country.
Judge Stephens says a case of this kind is like a pressure cooker. Plus, whatever decision is made during sentencing, someone will not be happy with it, he says.
The pressure is immense with the Chauvin trial, especially now that the jury rendered a verdict of guilty on all counts.
Many people think the trial is now over in Minneapolis. But, according to Stephens, it’s far from it.
Judge Stephens told 8 On Your Side there is hard work ahead for the Minneapolis judge as the sentencing phase is scheduled to begin in eight weeks.
Former police officer Chauvin faces a lengthy prison term. The guilty verdicts he received for the death of George Floyd carry a penalty of 75 years behind bars.
Sentencing, says Judge Stephens, is not an easy job. The judge’s final recommendation could change the country, he says.
“This one will have the potential to affect the United States, and people should know the judicial system works like it’s supposed to,” said Stephens.
Judge Stephens says the verdict in the Chauvin trial did not surprise, especially since prosecutors had video of the crime with footage that sealed the deal.
“There’s a difference between a pursuit and something that happens in eight or nine minutes,” said Stephens.
So how does the judge in this case decide prison time for Chauvin? Judge Stephens says most of the ruling is already determined as Minnesota law states the maximum and the minimum time a person gets behind bars. But the judge in Minneapolis will spend hours reading, reflecting and researching sentencing guidelines.
“There’s never a time you can put it completely out of your mind. It’s better if you don’t think about it at home,” said Judge Stephens. “You do every bit of thinking you can before you make a decision.”
As sentencing moves forward in the Chauvin trial, the judge will listen to family members of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin as they talk in court about each man’s character, sharing personal details,
Then, it is decision time for the judge, spent alone weighing the law and both families’ testimony.