The New York State Court of Appeals decision, which was handed down last week, upholds a lower court ruling that the state charges brought against Manafort by District Attorney Cyrus Vance were too close to the ones Manafort had already been prosecuted for at a federal court.
Vance, a Democrat, had been pursuing prosecution of Manafort with 16 felony charges, including mortgage fraud and falsifying business records since March 2019, when he received a second prison sentence in a case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. The move was seen by many as the Democrats’ effort to bypass a potential presidential pardon, which covers Manafort’s federal criminal offenses but will not protect him from state charges.
Trump granted Manafort a “full and complete” pardon just days before Christmas of 2020. Manafort expressed his thanks to the president at the time, writing on Twitter that words “cannot fully convey how grateful we are.”
New York State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley dismissed Vance’s attempt in December 2020, saying that the prosecutors failed to show that their case wasn’t essentially a copy of the federal one that had sent Manafort to prison.
“The People have failed to establish that the harm or evil each statute is designed to prevent is very different in kind from the federal statutes for which the defendant was previously prosecuted,” Wiley wrote the decision.
Manafort’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, applauded the ruling, telling Reuters that the case “should never have been brought because the dismissed indictment is a clear violation of New York law.”
In October 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law to allow state prosecutors to file state criminal charges against individuals that are similar to federal crimes covered by presidential pardons. Democratic lawmakers said at that time that the bill was prompted by Trump’s pardoning of his associates in the final days of his first term as president.
“The closure of this egregious loophole gives prosecutors the ability to stand up against any abuse of power and helps ensure that no politically motivated, self-serving action is sanctioned under law,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in announcing his approval.
Republican lawmakers opposed the change, arguing that it would violate what’s known as the “Double Jeopardy Clause” in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that no individual can be tried twice for what is substantially the same crime.