“OUT OF WHACK” JUDGE SENTENCES “OUT OF WHACK” JAIL TERM

Written by Chu Yao Quan

What happened?

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman to US President Donald Trump has been found guilty for perpetrating a decade-long, multimillion-dollar tax and bank fraud when he was advising Ukrainian politicians. To the puzzlement of many, he has been sentenced to 47 months in prison by Judge T.S. Ellis III.

Putting the duration of his sentence into perspective, someone who steals $100 is typically sentenced to a prison term of 36-72 months. Manafort, therefore, should have gotten 19 to 24 years of prison time based on general sentencing guidelines, which Judge Ellis dismissed as “way out of whack”.

 

“Out of Whack”

Instead, public responses to Manafort’s prison term suggests that it was Judge Ellis’ sentence that was “out of whack”. To make matters worse, Manafort has been jailed since June 2018, and would receive credit for the nine months he had already served. Additionally, a change in sentencing laws approved by Congress allows Manafort to serve out the remainder of his sentence over the next 22 months.

A factor that allowed his “shortened” sentence is due to federal prosecutors having enormous power over how Manafort gets indicted. By cherry picking parts of the general sentencing guidelines to benefit Manafort, it wasn’t difficult for Judge Ellis to arrive at a shorter sentence.

Legal experts cited the sentencing guidelines as unduly punitive, and Manafort’s case is a glaring example of the leniency that wealthy, white-collar criminals often receive because they have the money to defend themselves, or that judges find it easier to empathise with them.

 

What’s next?

Manafort still has another sentencing next week, and one of the biggest issues remaining for  him is whether he will be allowed to serve out his two sentences simultaneously. Prosecutors have taken no stand on that so far, but indicated in a sentencing memorandum that they might do so after Judge Ellis’s decision.

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