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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

How Trump could end up with a prison sentence following his guilty verdict in New York

“Judge Merchan tends to be harsher on white collar criminals than many other judges,” veteran defense attorney Ronald Kuby told Courthouse News.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump was already the first president in American history to stand trial on criminal charges. But after a Manhattan jury on Thursday found him guilty of all 34 charges against him, Trump became a convicted felon, too.

Come sentencing on July 11, he could also become the first U.S. president to be sent to prison.

It’s all up to New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the Manhattan judge who presided over Trump’s six-week criminal trial. Trump’s specific charges were for falsifying business records, a Class E felony in New York State that carries a sentencing range of 16 months to 4 years.

That’s only if Merchan decides to send Trump to prison, however.

Attorney and former diplomat Norm Eisen found in an analysis that just around one in 10 people who have been convicted of falsifying business records are imprisoned — and those typically involve additional charges, Eisen wrote for The New York Times in April.

Merchan instead could sentence Trump to probation or community service, which pundits like Eisen believe is a more likely scenario.

But veteran New York defense attorney Ronald Kuby thinks many are overlooking Merchan’s history with defendants like Trump.

“Judge Merchan tends to be harsher on white collar criminals than many other judges,” Kuby told Courthouse News. “That’s just his reputation … so that’s bad news for Trump.”

Kuby explained that Merchan, who presides over Manhattan’s mental health court every Wednesday, is known for being compassionate with his most disadvantaged of defendants.

“Conversely, his reputation is that if you’re rich and powerful, you should really play by the rules,” Kuby said.

Kuby said Merchan’s decision will rely on a multitude of factors, like whether or not the former president has shown he’s capable of reforming or expressing remorse for his actions. That means his continued denial of the case’s legitimacy — even after the verdict — could come back to bite him.

“This is all done by Biden and his people,” Trump baselessly claimed during a press conference Friday morning.

Trump’s financial history doesn’t help matters, Kuby added. After all, the ex-president is coming off a $355 million civil fraud judgment against him that came down just months before his criminal trial began.

“You can’t exactly say he’s been a model citizen in his financial dealings until this,” Kuby said.

Retired New York judge George Grasso, who watched every day of the trial from an aisle seat in the press gallery, sees the severity of Trump’s crimes as the biggest risk to land him behind bars.

“He’s convicted of 34 separate counts, so it’s 34 felonies here,” Grasso told Courthouse News. “Taking that conviction on its face, this isn’t just like a green glasses accounting error kind of thing, or a borderline error. This is behavior that ultimately interfered with an honest election. And theoretically … this could have impacted the election. That was a very close election.”

Grasso pushed back on the potential argument that Trump committed a victimless crime. 

“The victim, you could say, is the people who voted in the United States, New Yorkers who went out and voted and thought they were participating in an honest and fair election, when you have a guy maybe diluting the impact of our votes here,” Grasso said. “So, that’s pretty serious in my book."

Trump has no prior criminal record, and while that's often the case with white-collar defendants, the lack of a rap sheet could help Trump avoid jail time. 

Even if it doesn’t, Kuby said that Trump’s seemingly endless stamina for legal appeals, coupled with New York’s bail laws, could keep him free while the appellate process plays out.

“Due to New York’s bail laws, it is almost certain that Donald Trump will remain free on bail pending appeal while all of his various appeals go through various courts,” Kuby said. “The idea that if Merchan sends him to jail, he’s going to spend the Republican National Convention behind bars is just ridiculous.”

Trump continues to deny the legitimacy of Thursday's verdict and the proceedings as a whole. He remained persistent in his attacks on Merchan on Friday, calling the judge “highly conflicted.” But Trump has stopped short of overtly targeting the jury since the verdict, pursuant to a still-active gag order imposed by Merchan to protect the trial’s witnesses and jurors.

A Manhattan jury on Thursday found Trump guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records. The jurors found that Trump broke the law when he manipulated documents to cover up a scheme to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

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Categories / Criminal, National, Politics

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