NY Judge Dismisses State-level Manafort Prosecution On Double Jeopardy Grounds

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arriving to his arraignment in New York County Criminal Court, plead not guilty to state mortgage fraud charges on June 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives to his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court, on June 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
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December 18, 2019 10:24 a.m.
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A New York state judge has dismissed mortgage fraud charges brought against Paul Manafort, reports say.

Judge Maxwell Wiley cited New York’s double jeopardy law in throwing the case out, reportedly saying that state law allows for “very narrow exceptions for prosecution.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. brought the case against Manafort in March, with the indictment dropping nearly simultaneously with Manafort’s sentencing in D.C. federal court.

In a statement, Vance’s office said that they intended to appeal Judge Wiley’s decision.

“We will appeal today’s decision and will continue working to ensure that Mr. Manafort is held accountable for the criminal conduct against the People of New York that is alleged in the indictment,” the statement reads.

The allegations hewed closely to bank fraud charges for which Manafort was convicted in an August 2018 trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The case was seen partly as an attempt to ensure that Manafort would remain behind bars amid speculation that President Trump intended to pardon his former campaign chairman.

Judge Wiley issued the reportedly brief ruling from the bench.

In a 26-page opinion, Wiley found that Manafort was being prosecuted by Vance for the same conduct on which he faced trial in the Eastern District of Virginia. While both the New York State and U.S. constitutions provide for “dual sovereignty” — allowing for successive federal and state prosecutions — Wiley found that the Vance case violated a New York state statute barring double prosecution for the same offense.

Wiley focused on 10 counts on which the Virginia federal jury was hung at the end of Manafort’s August 2018 trial.

The hung counts were dismissed after Manafort entered into an ill-fated plea agreement with the special counsel’s office to settle separate charges brought in D.C. In sentencing Manafort in March 2019, Judge T.S. Ellis for the Eastern District of Virginia found that the hung counts were dismissed “without prejudice” because Manafort “admitted to the conduct” in his D.C. plea agreement.

But in the judgment entered into the federal docket, Judge Ellis wrote that the hung counts had been “dismissed with prejudice” — an apparent contradiction.

Judge Wiley in New York state court found that “regardless of this apparent discrepancy between Judge Ellis’s words and the court document, the federal record is clear that Judge Ellis was not authorizing any governmental entity, either state or federal, to obtain a new accusatory instrument.”

“To argue, as the People do here, that the statement ‘without prejudice’ is in fact an authorization to obtain a new accusatory instrument strains reason,” Wiley wrote. “In fact, Judge Ellis expressed doubt that the Hung Counts could ever be resurrected — and added that that was not ‘his problem.'”

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