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Manafort’s Sentence and the Luck of White Privilege

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Paul Manafort – Creative Commons

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced today in federal court in the District of Columbia by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. I have had the occasion to appear before Judge Jackson representing defendants. She is known for being fair. And she is not a pushover judge as Judge T.S. Ellis, III, Manafort’s judge in his Alexandria, VA case. Judge Elliot gave Manafort a light sentence more than a decade below the sentencing guidelines of 19- 24 years. Judge Ellis sentenced Manafort to less than five years.

Manafort faced a maximum of 10 years before Judge Jackson. Judge Jackson let it be known in court today that Manafort had a contempt for the court proceedings and our American democracy by his acts. While Manafort’s last week’s sentence sickened me, Judge Jackson today stated that the truth and facts matter. The real issue was whether the sentence would run in addition to the sentence last week or run along with the prior sentence—to shorten his term in prison.

The case is really a tale of two judges and how the court system works in favor of white collar and white privileged defendants. Judge Ellis last week stated that other than the charges, Manafort had left an otherwise routine life. Manafort made $60 million out of his deals and failed to pay taxes on much of it. Out of the money, he bought lavish homes, $20,000 suits, yet had very little left by the time of his court woes. Judge Jackson made clear that she is not pleased with Manafort’s shenanigans after being charged—his lying to prosecutors under a plea agreement to cooperate.

Paul Manafort for the first time apologized for his acts. He begged Judge Jackson to be able to have a lighter sentence and stay home with his wife. Judge Jackson told Manafort before sentencing that he squandered the chance for a lighter sentence—yet she gave him a lighter sentence anyway.

On the possible maximum sentence of 10 years, Judge Jackson stated that 30 months of her sentence must by law run concurrent with the Virginia sentence last week. On count one -conspiracy charge, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 60 months with 30 months running concurrent (meaning to run alongside of) with the Virginia sentence last week. Manafort dodged the bullet of the maximum 10 years. With regards to the witness tampering count, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 13 months, to run consecutive (in addition to) with count one and the VA sentence.

As I read the sentence, Manafort will serve 43 months or 3 ½ years in addition to the Virginia 4- year sentence. Roughly, Manafort would serve 7 years. Without a pardon, Manafort faces a prison term until he is 77 years old. While parts of  the sentencing may be in addition to the Virginia sentence last week, Manafort still received a light sentence, considering what he could have likely received. His sentence was still less than what the federal guidelines called for.

The fraud on the American public committed by Manafort shows that crime does pay if you are rich, white and privileged in America. This is not a reflection on Judge Jackson—but on the overall criminal white-collar system which gives breaks to white collar, white privileged defendants but throws the book at African American defendants, mostly men and persons of color, even when committing white collar crimes.

Setting aside Manafort’s sentence, when he was in jail pending trial, he had access to computers and an almost suite like room in the prison, instead of a one room jail cell. To say that he received extra privileges would be an understatement. Manafort caught a break both during his time awaiting sentencing and during sentencing, last week and before Judge Jackson today.

To be an old, white and privileged man in America works very well in the criminal justice system. Paul Manafort did not deserve the break he received for the crimes he committed. The ultimate snub to the criminal justice system and to the American people will be if Donald Trump pardons Manafort.  No matter what happens, Paul Manafort is the poster boy for white privileged males.

UPDATE: At the same time of his sentencing, Paul Manafort was indicted on state charges  in New York for which Trump cannot pardon him, if convicted.

Washington, DC Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer who appears before the U.S. District Court and is a former prosecutor.