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Ocasio-Cortez Says Justice System 'Broken' as Critics Rip 'Atrociously Low' Sentence for Manafort

"Paul Manafort getting such little jail time for such serious crimes lays out for the world how it’s almost impossible for rich people to go to jail for the same amount of time as someone who is lower income."

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse for a hearing on June 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

After President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Thursday to less than four years in prison for financial fraud—a far lighter punishment than the recommended 19-24 years—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was among those noting the case exemplifies the gross inequities at the core of the U.S. criminal justice system.

"In our current broken system, 'justice' isn't blind. It's bought."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

"Paul Manafort getting such little jail time for such serious crimes lays out for the world how it's almost impossible for rich people to go to jail for the same amount of time as someone who is lower income," Ocasio-Cortez declared. "In our current broken system, 'justice' isn't blind. It's bought."

Experts agreed with Ocasio-Cortez's characterization of Manafort's 47-month sentence as extremely lenient given the severity of his conviction, which included bank fraud, tax fraud, and failure to report foreign assets.

"Young, poor, minority defendants receive stiffer sentences for minor drug crimes."
—Glenn Kirschner, NBC News

"It's atrociously low," Barbara McQuade, law professor at the University of Michigan and former U.S. attorney, told the New York Times.

While "many judges do sentence leniently in white-collar cases," she added, "dropping all the way from 19 years to four years is absurd."

McQuade expanded on her criticism of Manafort's sentence in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, saying the lenient prison term "suggests that the wealthy and the powerful do better in court than many other defendants do, and I think it is an attack on the legitimacy of the criminal justice system."

 While handing down Manfort's sentence, Judge T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. slammed the recommended 20-year sentence as excessive and claimed that the former Trump campaign chair "has lived an otherwise blameless life"—a remark that elicited disgust from critics.

"Weird how some people suddenly decide the criminal justice system is excessively punitive the moment a rich white guy gets convicted," tweeted Adam Serwer, staff writer for The Atlantic.

"This was not equal justice today," declared NBC News legal analyst and former federal prosector Glenn Kirschner, Young, poor, minority defendants receive stiffer sentences for minor drug crimes. Judge Ellis imposed an unjust sentence that undermines confidence in our criminal justice system. This judge let America down today."

While observers noted the gross and pervasive disparities the Manafort sentence seemed to exemplify, other criminal justice reform advocates warned against pushing the narrative that simply demanding higher sentences for convicted white collar or wealthy criminals is the way to reform the criminal justice system:

Manafort is set to be sentenced for a second set of crimes—two counts of conspiracy—next week by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.

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