How the Manafort Sentence Reveals Systemic Inequities in the ‘Justice’ System

How the Manafort Sentence Reveals Systemic Inequities in the ‘Justice’ System March 11, 2019

Ken White, aka Popehat, a former federal prosecutor in the corruption division, has a very important article pointing out that the problem with the Manafort sentence isn’t just the one judge. Rather, it reveals how deliberate decisions have been made throughout the system to build in inequities and injustice by focusing on the crimes of the poor rather than the crimes of the rich.

He provides a long list of reasons for this. A couple key ones:

First, there can’t be a sentence without an investigation. After 9/11, the United States Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices that it controls shifted resources and focus from white-collar crime to drugs, guns, and immigration. In Los Angeles, the U.S. Attorney’s Office shuttered the Public Corruption and Government Fraud Section, where I served. Investigations of people like Manafort—people who have committed complex financial crimes—are time-consuming and resource-intensive. You can jail 20 drug traffickers for life with the resources it took to prosecute Manafort. America picks who goes to jail when it picks whom to investigate—which is one of the reasons so few people involved in the 2008 Wall Street debacle went to jail…

Third, Congress has given Ellis the power to give people like Manafort a break, but has denied him that power when the defendant is accused of many blue-collar crimes. Last year, Ellis sentenced a 37-year-old man named Frederick Turner to 40 years in federal prison for methamphetamine distribution. He had no choice: Congress passed laws making 40 years the mandatory minimum sentence.

More than half of federal prisoners received a mandatory minimum sentence. Congress has passed mandatory minimum laws for drugs, guns, child abuse, and child porn. President Trump pushed for harsher mandatory minimum laws for immigration cases. These laws reflect America’s judgment about which people are so irredeemable that federal judges should not have the discretion to show them the sort of lenience Ellis showed Manafort. That judgment favors the rich at the expense of the poor…

The system isn’t broken because Manafort got four years rather than the 19-year recommendation that the sentencing guidelines spat out. The system is broken because other people get the long sentence—because other poorer and often darker people don’t get the same chances. It’s broken at every level, in obvious and obscure ways.

He offers several more reasons. It goes far beyond the simplistic analysis and into the specific policies and decisions that make those injustices impossible to avoid.

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