We are getting it backwards. "WE" meaning the criminal defense community as we continue to criticize the sentence handed to Paul Manafort.
The internet and the opinion pages are alive with examples of harsh sentences handed out to the indigent clients of public defenders. "How could my client get life in prison in California for stealing a pair of pants while Manafort gets 47 months?" writes former Public Defender Rachel Marshall Sunday in an OpEd piece here in the Washington Post.
The question isn't why Manafort got 47 months. The question and conversation we need to be having is why a poor man with two priors decades old was sentenced to prison for life for stealing a pair of pants in a scheme to obtain money to buy a car seat for his new born son?
Judge Ellis, who sentenced Manafort was quoted over the weekend asking if anyone criticizing the sentence has ever spent a week in prison, or even a day? That is the conversation we need to be having.
Prison has a destructive effect on the individual and the soul.
Think for a moment the destructive effect on you-Ms. Reader- and your family, if you were incarcerated for six months. Would your bills be paid? Would you lose your house, your car, your credit rating? How would it affect your family? Assume an average life span of seventy five years. An eight year sentence takes ten percent of that precious time away. If you're 70 and statistically will not live until 80, would you celebrate a five year sentence? Does anybody truly think spending your remaining years behind bars, away from family and decent health care, is a lenient sentence? Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night sick? Take a Tylenol or a cough medicine or go to the ER. Good luck getting care within ten hours if you wake up at 2AM ill in prison. You sit and suffer with your fate in the hands of people who resent your presence and enjoy seeing you suffer.
And what of the deterrent effect? How many middle-aged white men who are lobbyists in DC sat around Saturday night and plotted to commit crimes and evade taxes because they see what happened to Manafort as a slap on the wrist and are willing to risk what he is going through?
Slap on the wrist? You go to a detention facility and be confined to a wheel chair and spend endless hours pondering what another human being is going to sentence you to. "You can beat the rap, but not the ride." Manafort did neither.
The conversation we need to be having as criminal defense attorneys is the disastrous affect prison has on people. That a year in prison affects a person's life for the next five years and five years in prison creates obstacles that most people will never overcome.
The conversation we should be having is why we have a system that allows prosecutors to threaten people with decades of time for crimes that do not physically hurt anyone. Tax evasion is bad. What Manafort did does not affect your blogger or you in the least. If Manafort had never been caught, life would have gone on unaffected for all of us.
We have it "SDRAWKCAB" which is "Backwards" spelled Backwards.
We are missing an opportunity and shame on us.
Coming Monday: Revenge of the Jedi and Mr. Markus.
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