Manafort’s tax crime defense, explained

Former campaign chair manager for President Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, is currently facing criminal charges. The charges, which include tax evasion, can come with serious criminal penalties. These penalties can include very high monetary fines and potential imprisonment. In this case, Mr. Manafort faces a sentence of lifetime imprisonment.

With so much at risk, it may come as a surprise that Mr. Manafort’s defense chose to rest without calling witnesses.

Why not call witnesses in a tax crime case? The choice is one that will be discussed by legal counsel for each case and the best answer will vary depending on the facts of each situation. In this case, the choice was based on two beliefs:

  • Government failed to prove its case. Our justice system is based on the belief that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. This holds true for all criminal charges, including tax crimes. In this case, Mr. Manafort argues the government failed to establish he committed the alleged crimes. The jury must find the government provided evidence that Mr. Manafort committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” to return a guilty verdict.
  • Risk too great. If the defense chose to call witnesses, the prosecution could shift the focus of the trial. This would likely include an attack on Mr. Manafort’s credibility. Instead, the defensive team felt it best to focus on the poor credibility of one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. Mr. Manafort’s team argues the focus is currently on the lack of credibility of the witness used by the government, putting Mr. Manafort at an advantage as the jury goes into deliberations.

Whether or not this strategy will prove effective is yet to be seen. The jury took a full day to deliberate Thursday and entered its second day of deliberation today, Friday, August 17, 2018.

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