AFTER A LONG and unusual series of legal turns, the case of Marvin Mandel and his five associates has run its complicated course with convictions on political corruption charges still standing. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the defendants' appeal caps a prolonged ordeal that included for each of them one mistrial, one conviction, one reversal and -- by tie votes -- one reinstatement of the guilty verdicts and one refusal of the full federal appeals court in Richmond to rehear the case. The question now is whether the sentences -- Mr. Mandel has been given a four-year term -- will stick or be lightened.

This answer entails still more legal maneuvering. And some sympathy for the defendants would be in order as well. If attorneys for the defendants proceed as reported with petitions to the trial judge for reviews of the sentences, the elaborate and unusual nature of these cases deserves consideration as a mitigating circumstance. It is not that the proceedings were unfair to the defendants, for these legal battles were long and expensive for the taxpayers as well. The process was not intended to favor either side in court, and in fact both sides prolonged it in a perfectly sound and detailed quest for a complete resolution -- conviction or acquittal. Shortcuts would have cast still more lingering doubts about the conduct of high public officials in Maryland.

Now that the verdicts stand, the length and expense of the case does become a justifiable factor in a review of sentences. Though personal pain and financial costs may not be reasons for dropping cases when criminal charges have been brought, they do deserve sensitive judicial consideration in reaching the ultimate and always difficult decisions about exactly how people should pay for their crimes.