Paul Manafort, convicted on eight felony convictions for tax cheating and bank fraud, was given a sentence of 47 months by Judge T.S. Ellis III, according to the LA Times. Although Manafort is a 69-year-old man with no prior convictions, this is an unusually light sentence for a criminal conviction.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, Manafort’s crimes should have bought him about 20 years in prison. Judge Ellis dismissed this as “excessive.” Ellis has long been a critic of federal sentencing rules that limit the judge’s discretion. Still, the decision was met with outrage.
“My client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room,” Scott Hechinger, a senior staff lawyer at the public defender’s office in Brooklyn, wrote on Twitter.
When he handed down the sentence, Ellis noted that anyone who thinks the sentence is too lenient should “go and spend a day, a week in jail or in the federal penitentiary. He has to spend 47 months.” Ellis’s sentence also requires Manafort to pay millions of dollars in restitution.
“I am not making the argument for harsher sentences for anyone including Manafort,” Hechinger wrote. “I am simply pointing out the outrageous disparity between his treatment and others, disproportionately poor & people of color.”
Hechinger touched on a consist theme in criminal cases, where the wealthy and powerful are treated more leniently.
Next week, Manafort will be sentenced in another related federal case in Washington, D.C. While Ellis has shown sympathy toward Manafort, the judge in the D.C. case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, has not been as sympathetic.
Jackson has the ability to sentence Manafort up to 10 years. She also has the power to decide whether or not the sentences can overlap, or if they should be served one after another.
More, Trump may not have to serve his full sentence at all. Trump has hinted that he may pardon some of his former associates.
Clearly the U.S. justice system is extremely unequal. In some states, lawmakers are beginning to roll back harsh sentencing laws that were enacted during the war on drugs. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimated in 2016 that almost 4 in 10 people in jail in the U.S. were imprisoned without a public safety rationale.
The upcoming presidential election will provide a space for debating the future of incarceration in the U.S.