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March 14, 2019

Finding lessons in the Manafort sentencing and California's capital moratorium

Brandon Garrett has this great new little piece at The New Republic under the headline "Beyond Hard Time: What the disparate reactions to Manafort's sentence and California's death penalty ban reveal about our broken system."  I recommend the piece in full, and here is a taste:

Is it hypocritical to call for less severe sentences for “regular” criminals while decrying leniency for white-collar defendants?  Those debates are now roiling the pundit world, but as a longtime student of disparities in judicial outcomes, I find the basis of the comparison deeply misleading.  The juxtaposition of the Manafort and Newsom stories should prompt us, rather, to question anew the impulse to frame years in prison as the most appropriate response to our most pressing social problems....

Instead of enacting more draconian sentences, we must invest in white-collar law enforcement the same way we invest in other measures to protect public safety.  Consider this: the Internal Revenue Service has had its budget cut over the past decade to the point where audits have decreased by 42 percent and the number of tax fraud cases the agency brings has been cut by nearly 25 percent.  Under such lax enforcement, tax fraud schemes — of the very sort repeatedly carried out by Paul Manafort — are able to thrive.  And while better white-collar crime enforcement is a key, neglected foundation of public safety, the rationale for more sustained and concerted pursuit of white-collar criminals doesn’t end there.  These offenses also pose much broader hazards to our well-being.  They endanger the national economy — and conspiring with other countries endangers national security — on a far greater scale than the harms wrought by drug possession and street crimes.

The way out of the double standard we apply to punishment is to reject the notion that true justice inheres in strictly hewing to a one-size-fits-all model of criminal sentencing. To begin using law enforcement as a means of meaningful social reform, we need, rather, to consistently apply the same standards of enforcement to all types of crime: police far more, prosecute and punish far less, utilize evidence-based treatment, and ask that violators give back and make the community whole.  Harsh sentences don’t deter crime, but changing the focus of our enforcement systems just might.

March 14, 2019 at 02:16 PM | Permalink


There is an old saying that it is important not only for justice to be done, but for justice to been seen as being done. This is equally true in the inverse. It is important not only that the evil be punished, but that evil be seen as being punished. The problem with white color crime is that, for the most part, in the eyes of most judges, people like Paul Manafort don't look evil. El Chapo looks evil.

One thing I noticed decades ago about the press was that when it came to child porn downloaders if the perp was ugly, they always featured his picture prominently in the article. But if the perp was a good looking middle class sort they either buried the picture or didn't print one at all. Go back and look at the Washington Post in the 1990s--the inescapable conclusion is that every pedophile in existence had a beard, really long hair, or both.

Why do you think both Manafort and Bill Cosby attended their sentencing hearings sporting canes? No one wants to be seen being harsh to a cripple. Where they both cheap acting ploys? Sure. Yet it works.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 14, 2019 8:16:49 PM

Lol. I wrote "white color crime" when I meant white collar crime. It's a revealing typo, though.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 14, 2019 8:18:08 PM

Daniel, as innocent as your typo was/is, if you were a broadcaster you would be on the chopping block.

The press and media have sensationaled the race card and the MeTo movement to low depths. They need to get a job.

About now Im thinking 2/3 of Congress and Senate need to also get a job, wew...Did I really say that....Oh well...

Doug, I love the ability to edit before posting, its great, especially with my typos.
Thanks for the new edit capability..

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 15, 2019 12:19:44 PM

Looking in from afar, I must discount the notion "Lesson" here, as I have not found - over decades - that American Justice is looking to identify problems with the intent of solving these, to - maybe one day in a blue moon - lure the RULES of LAW back to apply for residency in USA. Laws rule elsewhere, offshore and almost 100% in other OECD Nations. Easy to see that NO FOREIGN JURISDICTION asks for some "instructional", tutorial advice from the Judicial Conference, whose statutory purpose is to lend a hand to overseas jurists and justice administrators. Nobody knocks on JC's door. The vast appellate precedency bookcollections will forever prevent JUSTICE to be executed evenly, less maladministered, while USA's use how-to-Manuals (for each Circuit) to shoot down every flavor of §2255-arguments, and the "God-Trust"-racket disqualifies itself. There you are. No way out. As long as most federal judges are lifetime "regurgitated former prosecutors" (Reagan), America will remain an "Unrechtsstaat" and discrepencies will rule, and preponderance will ruin.

Posted by: Avv Funaro | Mar 17, 2019 5:07:04 AM

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