Russell Hebets June 21, 2018

Paul Manafort is President Trump’s former campaign chairman who is currently the defendant in two upcoming trials on money laundering and bank fraud. On Friday, a judge ordered he spend the rest of his pretrial period in jail. The accusation which led to this pretrial charge is witness tampering. The Judge determined that since there is no way to control Manafort’s communications, and there is enough probable cause that he did contact potential witnesses, he should be jailed for the remaining period rather than remain on house arrest.

Jail, bail and pretrial services

Judges may impose a host of pretrial conditions on a defendant depending on the crime and their circumstances. This includes fines and fees in the form of bail or bond and paying for monitoring services and the supervision of a pretrial officer. Additionally, the court views how the defendant responds to these requirements as indicative of their remorse and willingness to cooperate. So when a defendant violates those conditions, the court may adjust them to prevent the defendant from running away or from endangering the community by committing further crimes.

If there is probable cause that the defendant committed another crime while on pretrial services, which is the argument the judge accepted from the prosecution here, then the judge may revoke bail and send the defendant to jail while they await trial.

Moreover, the court will consider how the defendant responded to these conditions when making later judgments. Not only could the defendant be jailed until trial, but if they are eventually found guilty they may get a harsher sentence too, because they have not proved they can be trusted with a more lenient one.

Why jail instead of increased monitoring?

There are good reasons why a judge may decide to not give a defendant a second chance on pretrial release. In this case, because there are serious underlying charges that the defendant has information regarding, the Judge may see sending Manafort to jail as a way to make him become a more cooperative witness in those other cases. Furthermore, the Judge recognizes that pretrial monitoring on house arrest is limited and cannot necessarily screen every action of the defendant.

Witness Tampering

The primary evidence of witness tampering mostly involves texts to two member of the group which supported the pro Russian Ukrainian president. The prosecution argued that the texting occurred after Manafort’s second indictment on February 23rd of this year and that the communications appear to be Manafort trying to make sure everyone involved is on board with the same story. They are accused of unregistered lobbying for the Ukrainian president in the US, while Manafort claims they only lobbied where appropriate in Europe.

However, his defense team argued that the texts themselves were innocuous and that further, the defense does not even know who will be called as witnesses, so it would be unfair to say that Manafort tampered with them if he was not aware of their witness status.

District Judge Amy Berman Jackson didn’t buy the defense argument. The evidence presented amounted to probable cause in a serious matter, thus, Manafort will await trial in jail.