Manafort case sparks conversation about sentencing
A judge’s decision to sentence President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman to less than four years in prison – a fraction of the penalty called for in government guidelines – sparked widespread anger Friday and opened up a conversation about whether the justice system treats different crimes and criminals fairly.
Judge T.S. Ellis III’s comment that Paul Manafort had lived an “otherwise blameless life” was particularly galling to those who pointed out that Manafort’s past included work for people such as Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos and Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic presidential candidate, told “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Thursday night that the criminal justice system “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent” and preys upon the most vulnerable such as “poor folks, mentally ill folks, addicted folks and overwhelmingly black and brown folks.”
Manafort, 69, was convicted by a jury in Virginia of eight felony tax and bank fraud charges. Probation officials calculated a guideline range of 19.5 to 24.5 years.
Many observers raised the case of Crystal Mason, a black woman from Texas who was sentenced in state court last year to five years in prison for voting illegally in 2016, while she was on supervised release from a federal conviction. Mason said she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to vote.
Her lawyer, Alison Grinter, said Friday that the judge’s comment about Manafort being “blameless” was infuriating, especially considering that he is awaiting sentencing on a different case in Washington, where he faces up to 10 more years. The Washington judge who will sentence him next week has the option to impose that sentence either concurrently or consecutively.
“I’m absolutely aghast. I hardly recognize the judicial system,” Grinter said. Mason and “so many other folks like her have come to expect this kind of disparity. It’s only now that we’re paying attention to it.”
Grinter pointed out that her client’s original crime was a single tax-related federal charge, and she received the maximum sentence. Manafort, on the other hand, received more than 15 years less than what was called for under the low end of the guideline range.