Relevant Conduct and the Paul Manafort Trial

Under the federal sentencing guidelines the concept of relevant conduct allows a judge to consider the defendant’s actual conviction as well as their alleged crimes when determining their sentence. While judges have always been allowed to consider factors outside of the trial, such as the defendant’s criminal record, relevant conduct broadens the scope to include accusations of criminal activity that the defendant has not been charged with or did not result in a conviction. This is the situation that Paul Manafort may find himself.

Mr. Manafort’s Verdict and Relevant Conduct

Mr. Manafort was the campaign manager for Donald J. Trump, and recently convicted at trial for 8 of the 18 counts of the indictment. With regard to the other 10 counts, he wasn’t found not guilty. Instead, the jury could not reach a unanimous decision and the federal government could choose to refile charges on those counts. Despite not being found guilty, the judge can consider Mr. Manfort’s conduct as they relate to these counts, as well as those of his co-conspirators, when determining his sentence. This is true despite the fact that no co-conspirators have yet been charged and the conspiracy was only alleged but not proven to the jury’s satisfaction. If the judge applies the relevant conduct rules to Mr. Manafort’s case, he will face a longer prison sentence.

Range of Activity Considered for Sentencing

Under the United States Sentencing Commission guidelines, there are a number of factors that determine the range of activity that the judge can consider for sentencing and includes:

  • All acts and omissions committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused by the defendant;
  • In the case of jointly undertaken criminal activity (such as a criminal enterprise or conspiracy), all reasonably foreseeable acts and omission of others in furtherance of the joint criminal activity;
  • All harm that resulted from the acts and omissions and all harm that was the object of the acts and omissions; and
  • Any other information.

2014 U.S.S.C. Guidelines Manual, §1B1.3. Relevant Conduct (Factors that Determine the Guideline Range).

This broad leeway has resulted in defendants’ sentences increasing for crimes they were never charged with or were not convicted of.

Hire Skilled Representation

Relevant conduct means that defendants in federal court may face more severe penalties than they initially realize. If you are indicted in federal court on criminal charges, hire an experienced attorney who understands this process.  A skilled criminal defense attorney will conduct a thorough relevant conduct analysis to determine if:

  • Uncharged acts could be used against you; or
  • The actions of charged or uncharged co-conspirators place you at risk of a more severe sentence.

In addition, the attorney will work to mitigate the risk of relevant conduct during plea agreements. He or she will make sure that the factual statement portion of the plea agreement does not tie their client’s crimes to other defendants’ or co-conspirators’ actions. The goal is to limit the facts so that there are no relevant conduct issues for the judge to consider during sentencing.

Paul Manafort’s attorneys probably addressed this issue with their client, but clearly Mr. Manafort felt that it was in his best interest to go forward to trial. This could result a longer sentence if the judge applies the relevant conduct standard.

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Ben Stechschulte is a federal and state board certified criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. He has extensive experience representing clients in the federal court system and helps them avoid potential pitfalls such as relevant conduct. Let us provide the representation you need.

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