Chelsea Manning will remain confined another year, steep daily fines continue

Judge Says Chelsea Manning Can Pay Fines, Despite Evidence to the Contrary

Alexandria, VA — On Monday, August 5, 2019, Judge Anthony Trenga denied Chelsea Manning’s Motion to Reconsider Sanctions imposed after he found her in civil contempt of court for her refusal to give grand jury testimony relating to her 2010 disclosures of classified information. 

While the judge has authority to sanction Ms. Manning in an effort to convince her to comply with his order to testify before the grand jury, he does not have the authority to impose sanctions for punitive purposes. In her motion, Ms. Manning argued that the sanctions, including both incarceration and steep daily fines, will never coerce her compliance with the Court’s order, and therefore impermissibly serve only a punitive function.

The Judge denied her motion without holding a hearing on the matter, although both parties had consented to and anticipated an opportunity to present further evidence and argument. In a footnote, Judge Trenga explained his unexpected decision by saying “The Court […] finds, based upon the nature and volume of documents proffered, that a hearing would not aid the decision process and therefore decides the Motion without a hearing.”

“…Ms. Manning has proffered a substantial number of financial records documenting her assets, liabilities, and current and future earnings,” the Judge wrote. “The Court has reviewed these records and concludes […] that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions or will have the ability after her release from confinement. Therefore, the imposed fines of $500 per day after 30 days and $1,000 per day after 60 days is not so excessive as to relieve her of those sanctions or to constitute punishment rather than a coercive measure.”

The Judge has “almost unreviewable discretion” to interpret evidence, such as Chelsea’s financial records, and to impose —or revoke— sanctions. Thus, despite the fact that Chelsea is currently deeply in debt, and can not work while incarcerated, Judge Trenga was able to conclude that fines totalling $441,000 fall within the parameters of a ‘coercive’ sanction, and do not intrude into the forbidden realm of the punitive. He also stated his belief that continued confinement may yet exert a coercive impact upon Ms. Manning, and asserted that he retains the authority to keep her confined while simultaneously imposing daily fines, a point of law vigorously disputed by Ms. Manning’s lawyers.

When informed of the judge’s decision Chelsea said, “I am disappointed but not at all surprised. The government and the judge must know by now that this doesn’t change my position one bit.”

Chelsea will remain confined for another year, and will face ongoing financial hardship, unless Judge Trenga or a higher court are convinced of what Ms. Manning has always publicly maintained: that the sanctions imposed will never coerce her compliance and are therefore entirely punitive.


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