“Too light.” “Lenient.” “A slap on the wrist.” “Perverted.” There’s quite a bit of hand-wringing about the 4 year sentence that Judge T.J. Ellis handed down Thursday to Paul Manafort.
But Judge Ellis should be commended for doing the right — and hard — thing despite the enormous amount of pressure by the Special Counsel’s Office, the media, and the public to sentence Manafort to 20 years in prison. Judges are meant to be a check on the executive and not just a rubber stamp for oppressive government requests.
Twenty years would have been absurd for a 69-year-old, first time, non-violent offender. The sentencing guidelines, which came out to 19.5-24.5 years in this case, are deliberately draconian to induce pleas and discourage trials. They are so over-the-top that when a judge issues a fair sentence as Judge Ellis did, it is viewed as too low even though it isn’t. The system is skewed on purpose, to burden the right to trial.
No one will complain when Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the same case, is sentenced to far less than 4 years (and very possibly no jail). And no one will complain when Michael Flynn receives little to no jail.
Judge Ellis had to balance many competing issues in issuing a fair sentence. But one factor that thankfully did not come into play was jacking up Manafort’s sentence simply for proceeding to trial. Those out there calling for 20 years can’t articulate any good reason for giving Manafort such a lengthy sentence, while no one else from the Special Counsel’s investigation has received anything even remotely close.
Four years in prison for a 69-year old unhealthy defendant is not going to be easy by any stretch. That’s real time.
And Manafort faces another sentencing next week in D.C. with Judge Amy Berman Jackson. It would be strange for him to receive more time in that matter, where he pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility. The government previously agreed to a concurrent sentence although Judge Jackson is not bound by that agreement.
Many have called for Judge Jackson to issue the maximum 10 year sentence and to run it consecutively. The argument seems to be that because sentences are so high in America, it’s not fair that that Manafort is getting a reasonable sentence. This argument is misplaced. Critics should be arguing for criminal justice reform with lower sentences across the board, and not that Manafort should be sent to the moon, effectively a death sentence.