Will courts ease jail sentences during coronavirus?

Although there is much we do not know about the novel coronavirus, we do know it spreads when large groups of people are in close contact. As a result, we have seen the virus spread within prison systems. This has led to some currently serving prison time, as well as those who are preparing for sentencing, to argue for leniency or the ability to serve the sentence at home to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

When it comes to tax crimes, one Washington D.C. federal judge has factored in this concern and made exceptions to typical sentencing and jailtime requirements in an effort to reduce the COVID-19 impact.

In U.S. v. Manafort et al., the court had originally sentenced Rick Gates to serve prison time as a result of convictions for money laundering and tax crimes connected to Robert Mueller's Russian election interference probe.

Specifically, the judge sentenced Mr. Gates to 45 days in jail and three years' probation, as well as a $20,000 fine. His incarceration was to be intermittent, allowing him release to continue working but then return to prison during set times (like weekends).

Mr. Gates' wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. As a result, he requested the court allow him to serve the remainder of his sentence at home. He stated the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 while in jail would put his immunocompromised wife at an increased risk of contracting the virus.

Upon review of the request, the judge stated the situation warranted a modification of the condition to Mr. Gates' sentence. The case provides an example of the potential for requesting a modified sentence. In his decision, the judge noted Mr. Gates had explained his situation and the impact not only to his own health but to that of his family's health, as well.

Those who face similar issues may also consider seeking a modification. The outcome of this case may increase the likelihood of success.


U.S. v. Manafort et al., case number 1:17-cr-00201, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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