Chelsea Manning’s Legal Team Challenge Harsh Fines Levied Against Her By Federal Court
The legal team for Chelsea Manning requested a hearing to challenge the harsh fines levied to force her to testify before the grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.
On May 16, Judge Anthony Trenga held Manning in civil contempt and ordered her to be sent back to the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria. The court also imposed a fine of $500 per day after 30 days, and then a fine of $1000 per day after 60 days.
If Manning “persists in her refusal” for the next 16 months, her legal team points out she will face a total amount of fines that is over $440,000. This excessive amount may violate her Eighth Amendment rights under the Constitution.
Manning’s legal team contends the court should launch an “inquiry” into the “punitive impact” of the fines, and she should not be subject to fines as well as jail.
Furthemore, the motion asserts there is no “appropriate coercive sanction” because Manning will never testify. She should be released from jail and relieved of all fines.
“Ms. Manning has publicly articulated the moral basis for her refusal to comply with the grand jury subpoena, in statements to the press, in open court, and most recently, in a letter addressed to this court,” her attorneys state. “She is suffering physically and psychologically, and is at the time of this writing in the process of losing her home as a result of her present confinement.”
“She has made clear she prefers to become homeless rather than betray her principles. Her intransigence, at this point, is not reasonably in question. What is in doubt, however, is the government’s need for her testimony,” they add.
Assange was indicted on 17 charges of violating the Espionage Act sometime between May 14 and May 16—before Manning had her second contempt hearing for refusing to testify.
On April 11, the government disclosed an indictment against Assange on a single charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The grand jury was able to obtain this indictment in March 2018 without any testimony from Manning.
“The government has now indicted Mr. Assange on 18 very serious counts, without the benefit of or apparent need for Ms. Manning’s testimony. The government’s extradition packet must be submitted in finalized form very soon. Any investigation of him after that point will be nugatory,” Manning’s legal team declares.
Her attorneys continue, “Any further investigation of unindicted targets will likewise be futile, as charges would be time-barred, and in any case, it is perfectly understood that Ms. Manning has no useful information about any parties other than the person behind the online handle ‘pressassociation.’ She is not possessed of any that is not equally available to them, and in any case, her absence has posed no obstacle to indictment and superseding indictment.”
To the issue of fines, Manning’s legal team points out the court never conducted an assessment to consider whether Manning had the financial capacity to pay such a steep fine.
Her attorneys believe the court must “conduct an inquiry” into her current wealth and “what she may earn during the time she is to be held in contempt” in order to properly determine the proper amount for coercing her.
Citing the United States Supreme Court, the motion notes, in assessing fines, courts are urged to consider the “character and magnitude of the harm threatened” as well as the “probable effectiveness of any suggested sanction in bringing about the result desired.” Courts should also consider the “amount of defendant’s financial resources and the consequent seriousness of the burden.”
Manning’s attorneys do not question whether the court has the authority within its “traditional contempt powers” to impose fines, however, they maintain such fines are “generally reserved for corporations, which cannot be confined, and which have the capacity to absorb a fine without suffering, for example, homelessness.”
“Rarely, individuals are fined, but counsel can find no case in which fines were assessed as to an individual other than where the individual was a sophisticated financial actor and the underlying contempt involved disobedience of a court order directing the management of a large amount of money.”
In May, when Manning was first jailed, she stated, “Despite the heartbreak and hardship, cooperation with this grand jury is simply not an option. Doing so would mean throwing away all of my principles, accomplishments, sacrifices, and erase decades of my reputations—an obvious impossibility.”
“As before, I cannot regain the lost time, which may again extend to years. Repairing the damage to my relationships and both my physical and mental health might never come to pass.”
“Whatever one might make of my principles and decisions, I shall continue to make hard choices and sacrifices rather than relinquish my ethical positions in exchange for mere trinkets of personal gain or self-pleasure in the form of being released,” Manning concluded.