Trial of Donald Trump: will the former American president end up in prison?

Trial of Donald Trump: will the former American president end up in prison?
Trial of Donald Trump: will the former American president end up in prison?

© CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / POOL / AFP

– Donald Trump is on trial for falsifying accounting documents.

An unprecedented scenario could come true: a former American president risks prison. Donald Trump is the first former American head of state to be tried criminally. After six weeks of trial, the arguments of the defense and the prosecution ended Tuesday, May 28 in the court of Manhattan (New York). Since Wednesday, jurors in the Stormy Daniels case have been deliberating whether or not Donald Trump falsified accounting documents. The verdict, which could well rock the campaign for the American presidential election on November 5, 2024, is expected very soon. The 12 members of the jury, five women and seven men citizens of New York, began deliberating behind closed doors on Wednesday. They worked for three hours using their notes, taken during the long weeks of the trial, and a laptop containing the evidence in the case.

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Defense requires a “not guilty verdict” and demands that it be “quickly done well done”. Donald Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, believes that in this case, “there was no intention to defraud and no conspiracy to influence” the 2016 US election. He warned jury members against the temptation to turn their verdict into a “referendum” for or against the former American president. “You have an obligation to put aside (your) personal opinions whether they are favorable or against the accused”Manhattan Court Judge Juan Merchan reminded jurors before deliberations began.

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What are Donald Trump accused of?

The former President of the United States is accused of having falsified 34 accounting documents in order to conceal a payment of $130,000 to Stéphanie Clifford or Stormy Daniels, her pseudonym, a former porn star. The latter claims to have had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump in 2006, when he was already married to Melania Trump, which the accused denies. The payment, made in 2016, would have aimed to prevent the affair from coming to light a few months before the presidential election.

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In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reveals that Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, allegedly paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence. If the lawyer initially asserts that this transaction does not constitute a campaign expense and that it has nothing to do with the billionaire, Michael Cohen ends up recognizing in August 2018 that the payment was made “on demand” of the one who was then still president.

Donald Trump is not being prosecuted for the payment to Stormy Daniels but for accounting falsification. Michael Cohen would have been reimbursed via false invoices and false entries in the accounting books of the Trump Organization group by passing off these expenses as “legal costs”. The prosecution also considers the sum of $130,000 to be an illegal campaign expense.

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What does Donald Trump risk?

In New York State, falsifying an accounting document is considered a simple offense unless it is used to conceal another crime. In this case, it also becomes an offense which is punishable by up to four years of imprisonment. For the prosecutor in the case, Alvin Bragg, the “dozens of false entries in accounting documents” aimed to “hide compromising information from voters”. He believes that Donald Trump to lead “attempts to violate electoral laws” American.

The jurors do not determine the sentence awarded to Donald Trump, they simply decide on the 34 counts. It is the judge who will determine the nature of the sentence. The 12 jurors must decide unanimously. Everyone must declare that the billionaire is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” so that the latter is actually condemned. The defense therefore only needs to convince one juror of the Republican’s innocence to invalidate the decision. The jury could also make a finding of disagreement. In this case, the trial would be canceled. The prosecution has the option of organizing a new trial or dropping the charges. A new judgment could hardly be held before the presidential election of November 5, 2024.

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Could Donald Trump really end up in prison?

Due to his age and the absence of any criminal convictions on his legal record, the 77-year-old politician could avoid prison if he were found guilty by the jury. The judge could then opt for a lighter sanction, such as a suspended prison sentence or community service.

On the other hand, Donald Trump’s attitude could work against him. While he was banned from speaking publicly on the affair, the billionaire did not hesitate to speak several times. He spoke on social networks but also in front of the press. Donald Trump presents himself as the victim of “witch hunt” led by a justice system under the orders of the Democrats. The judge fined the Republican $10,000 for violating the silence requirement. He even threatened him with prison for contempt.

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If the jurors end up finding Donald Trump guilty, the latter will still be able to run in the presidential election against Joe Biden, the current President of the United States. His criminal conviction could then transform the outcome of the election. The ex-president could also decide to appeal. His sentence would be suspended. In this case, the new trial could hardly be held before November 5. This is not the only case in which Donald Trump is charged. It is at the heart of three other cases which should not be judged before the presidential election on November 5, 2024.

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