Will Trump go to prison? Here’s what happens next

On Thursday, a New York jury found former President Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment made to a porn star prior to the 2016 presidential election. This unprecedented conviction of a former US president, who is also a leading contender for the Republican nomination in the upcoming presidential election, has thrust the nation into unfamiliar political territory as Trump continues his campaign against President Joe Biden. Now, the question is: Will Trump go to prison?

Legally, the next steps for Trump are more predictable. Following the jury’s verdict, the case will proceed to the sentencing phase, managed by Judge Juan Merchan. Merchan has scheduled Trump’s sentencing for July 11 at 10 a.m. ET, with motions due by June 13. Both parties are expected to file sentencing memos advocating for their preferred penalties and other related documents.

Trump is likely to be interviewed by a probation officer for a pre-sentence report, which will include details about his personal history and criminal record, influencing the judge’s sentencing decision. Although Trump’s legal team may seek to delay the sentencing until after the November 5 presidential election, such a request is unlikely to be granted without substantial justification, according to New York City defense lawyer Michael Bachner.

In the interim, Trump remains free to speak to the press, travel, and continue his presidential campaign. The gag order preventing him from discussing witnesses, jurors, and the judge’s family members has been lifted.

The Class E felonies Trump was convicted of each carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison. However, possible penalties also include fines, restitution, probation, or other conditions, with imprisonment still a potential outcome. Judge Merchan has considerable discretion in determining the sentence, taking into account factors such as Trump’s age of 77 and his lack of prior criminal record, which might work in his favor.

Trump’s behavior during the trial, including his public attacks on the judge and allegations of political bias, could negatively influence Merchan’s decision. Trump violated the gag order multiple times, and Judge Merchan previously accused him of attempting to “intimidate” the court, expanding the gag order in response. According to Pace Law School Professor Bennett Gershman, Trump’s contempt for the court process and repeated violations are likely to be considered during sentencing.

Experts generally believe it is improbable that Trump will receive a jail sentence. “I’d be shocked” if Trump is incarcerated, Bachner remarked, suggesting that probation would be more typical for a defendant in similar circumstances. Merchan has consistently acknowledged Trump’s unique political status and has expressed reluctance to imprison the former president. After holding Trump in contempt for gag order violations, Merchan indicated that jail time was “the last thing I want to do,” citing logistical concerns and broader implications.

Nonetheless, Gershman noted that while a jail sentence is “certainly plausible,” the judge might opt for house arrest due to the complexities involved in incarcerating a former president. He emphasized that this case touches on fundamental democratic principles, which Merchan takes very seriously.

An appeal of Merchan’s sentence by Trump is inevitable, according to both Bachner and Gershman. However, the appeal process could extend over many months or even years, making it unlikely that Trump could overturn his conviction before Election Day. Trump will appeal to the New York Appellate Division’s First Judicial Department, and if unsuccessful, he may take his case to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Regardless of the outcome, Trump’s legal challenges will not prevent him from running for president. The U.S. Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must be natural-born citizens, at least 35 years old, and have resided in the country for at least 14 years, without barring felons from holding office.

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