In possible indication of how she might rule against Trump, Judge Chutkan hands down minimal sentence for elderly defendant guilty of tax evasion

 March 2, 2024

U.S. District Judge Tany Chutkan, who is presiding over Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump on charges linked to the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot of 2021, may have just indicated how she might sentence Trump if he is ultimately found guilty in her court.

Judge Chutkan just handed down an exceptionally light sentence of just one week in jail for a man who previously pleaded guilty to tax evasion, far less than the two years in prison that federal prosecutors sought, Politico reported.

To be sure, there are far more differences than similarities between Trump's case and that of Stephen Schechter, an investment banker who hid a $5.1 million overseas profit from the Internal Revenue Service, but the most compelling similarity was Schechter's advanced age of 79, which Chutkan cited multiple times in her decision to give him a light sentence.

Going easy on an elderly defendant

Politico reported that Judge Chutkan was open about the struggle she faced during Schechter's sentencing hearing on Friday, as on the one hand, she wanted to show that there are "rules that apply to everyone" and for which he needed to face accountability.

Yet, on the other hand, the judge fretted with the idea of locking up a 79-year-old man, particularly one in "frail health," for an extended period of time in the Washington D.C. jail.

Ultimately, even though prosecutors had requested that Schechter be imprisoned in D.C. for at least two years, Chutkan only sentenced him to serve seven days, as she believed that "There have to be consequences" for illegal acts and sentencing him to no jail time at all would send the wrong message "in a country that believes in the rule of law."

She reportedly further expressed how "worried" she was that Schechter wouldn't fare well in jail for even that one week, and went so far as to recommend that he be housed in the D.C. jail's "Central Detention Facility," a relatively safe and separate cell block where the jail's medical services are located, and said during the hearing, "I don’t have a lot of confidence in the D.C. jail. It is not a good place."

Chutkan has shown mixed results in prior sentencing of Jan. 6 defendants

It has been assumed by some that Judge Chutkan, should she get the opportunity to hand down a sentence for former President Trump, would throw the book at him and give him the maximum amount of time in prison possible based on the charges he faces.

That is based on the rather hard line she has taken against most of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants who've appeared before her, but Politico noted that even among some of those defendants, Chutkan has displayed some compassion and made accommodations for certain individuals, such as handing down minimal sentences or delaying when those sentences must be served.

However, concerning Schechter's case, though Chutkan might similarly consider Trump's advanced age and health in a hypothetical sentencing hearing, it should be noted that Schechter pleaded guilty, expressed remorse for his behavior, and cooperated with prosecutors, while Trump has maintained his innocence and not bee cooperative with Special Counsel Smith's team.

Suppositions based on assumptions that are not guaranteed

Of course, all of the supposition about how Judge Chutkan might sentence former President Trump is based on not just the assumption that he will be proven guilty by federal prosecutors but also that he will even stand trial in the first place for the four felony charges against him, which is far from guaranteed.

As SCOTUSblog reported this week, the Supreme Court agreed to take up Trump's claim of presidential immunity from prosecution for alleged acts committed during his presidency -- a claim that was already denied by Chutkan and the D.C. appellate court that the Supreme Court could have left alone if a majority agreed that he lacked the claimed immunity.

Furthermore, even if Trump ultimately loses on his immunity claim and eventually stands trial in D.C., there's a decent chance that the two main "obstruction" charges he faces amid the four could be tossed out in a separate but related case before the Supreme Court involving the alleged misuse by federal prosecutors against Jan. 6 defendants of a charge originally intended to be used against white-collar criminals who destroy evidence during investigations of financial misdeeds.

In the end, there is a very real possibility that Judge Chutkan may never get the opportunity to show the world whether she would display leniency toward Trump or throw the book at him.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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