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“A very large downward variance from the recommended sentence.” Those words—a characterization by Kim Taylor’s defense attorney to local media on April 1—have been on my mind. So too has the phrase “general deterrence” both from the federal prosecutors and U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Strand, following jury conviction on 52 counts of voter fraud.

“A very large downward variance” from sentencing guidelines is not going to deter anyone. Four months in a Waseca, Minnesota low-security prison that markets “an award-winning Cosmetology Training Program” isn’t going to deter any bad apples in either the Trump or Biden camps during the 2024 election. We don’t have to speculate whether this case, verdict, and sentence have national attention–they do. In a spiritual sense, the federal courthouse right here in Sioux City, Iowa has opened a door for other unprecedented cases of voter fraud across the nation, provided any defense counsel can argue “over-exuberance and excessive excitement” for Trump or Biden played a role. Granted, in the Taylor’s situation, considering the small fortune it probably cost them in legal fees, the process was the punishment. But perhaps the reader can entertain a purely hypothetical situation where a bad actor in the Trump or Biden campaigns might have more money than a Woodbury County Supervisor.

I attended the sentencing. The last time I was in that courtroom was 2016 when my wife became a U.S. citizen (born in Honduras). Judge Strand kindly allowed me to address my wife and the other immigrants, which ranks among my proudest moments. So being there this April 1 was even more surreal. There is no parallel to the structure and decorum you witness in a federal courtroom. But the last 1% of it turned it all to gloss. I’m deeply discouraged as a county supervisor and—in a small but undeniable way—ashamed as an American. I saw a family that aspired to the halls of Congress held to a lower standard. Holding oneself to a higher standard doesn’t come automatically, it takes extra work. How does “a very large downward variance” inspire me or anyone else serving the public to put in any extra effort?

The only new information at the sentencing was that the defense called the adult son to the witness stand. He did a fine job making the case that a mom in the house is important—no argument there! But in an awkward moment, when asked by defense counsel, he couldn’t remember or didn’t know his grandma’s name (who lives in the home). At that point, I thought, “Why didn’t they call Jeremy?” Call the dad. Have the man of the house maintain his wife’s innocence. Have him say literally anything. Yes, I’m aware of the retort that silence is warranted because he wasn’t formally charged. This is ironic when you notice he was as silent throughout the process as someone who was charged would be.

People are quick to accept personal credit whenever it advances a noble narrative for the public, and that’s fine. But conversely, aside from a scant list of historical heroes, few will accept that consequences for their own wrongdoings also advance a respect for justice. And honestly, think of how much easier it would have been for the Taylor family if they took responsibility and saved taxpayers and themselves the cost of their prosecution. With 20/20 hindsight, what might “a very large downward variance” on a guilty plea be?

I believe a judge for the United States should have directly told the mom that her actions and her actions alone is what is harming her children, and would have achieved both individual and general/public deterrence. Instead, I witnessed a judge—who didn’t do anything wrong himself—unnecessarily take some of the burden of the consequences upon his own shoulders, and mitigated them. Just like the crime itself, it was well-meaning but detrimental. I would swear to the court that I hear from a large cross-section of citizens, and the shock is only going one way. People thought their individual vote mattered more, and they’re shocked it doesn’t.

You may be asking, what if it was my wife? Like the Taylors, older generations in my family suffered under communist evil in Vietnam, and my wife is a naturalized U.S. citizen. But I’ve never been any good at the absentee game. Visiting foreign language households took so much time, whether via my dad’s Asian side or my wife’s Latin American side. So after a couple attempts during my first campaign, I just gave up, rather than press into something I didn’t have a handle on.

I can explain why the community is puzzled by this sentence. It’s not only because of the muted message it sent about consequences. It’s because everyone has seen—and I have seen—a lack of remorse throughout the entire ordeal. The defendant faced other naturalized citizens who told the court they would have voted differently but for her actions, and she argued they made the mistake. Remorse is the only deterrent for the self, and the court failed on that basic function of a sentence.

“A very large downward variance from the recommended sentence” does nothing to deter an impressionable toddler, much less a nation of desensitized adults. The federal courthouse in Sioux City held a family to a lower standard, and that lower standard is now the precedent for your entire country.

Author: Matthew Ung

Matthew Ung is a Woodbury County Supervisor. He currently serves as chair of the board.


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