Can Trump run for president as a convicted felon?

Video Caption, Watch: Donald Trump calls trial ‘a disgrace’ after guilty verdict

  • Author, Holly Honderich
  • Role, BBC News, Washington DC

Thirty-four indictments, one often irritated judge and a parade of witnesses.

After two days of deliberation, twelve New Yorkers found Donald Trump guilty of all charges in his hush money case.

It is a statement that makes history after a process that makes history. Trump is now the first former US president with a criminal conviction, and the first major party candidate to run for the White House as a felon.

Here are some important issues to consider.

Can he still run for president?

Yes. The US Constitution sets relatively few eligibility requirements for presidential candidates: they must be at least 35 years old, be a “natural-born” US citizen and have lived in the US for at least 14 years. There are no rules blocking candidates with a criminal record.

What happens to Trump now?

Trump has been out on bail throughout the trial and this did not change after the verdict was read on Thursday; the Republican was released on his own recognizance.

He will return to court on July 11 – the date Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled for a sentencing hearing.

But Trump said Friday that his team will ask Judge Merchan for a different day, as the date selected is four days before the start of the Republican National Convention.

Regardless of the date, the judge will consider several factors in sentencing, including Trump’s age.

The penalty may include a fine, probation or supervision, or possibly jail time.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Trump’s team can use Stormy Daniels’ testimony as grounds for an appeal

Trump, who called the verdict a “disgrace,” said he will appeal the guilty verdict, a process that could take months or even longer.

Attorney Todd Blanche told CNN Thursday evening that the former president’s legal team will “vigorously fight” the verdict with motions in the coming weeks. If these motions prove unsuccessful, they will be appealed after his conviction, Blanche said.

His legal team would have to deal with the Appellate Division in Manhattan, and possibly the Court of Appeals.

All this means that even after his conviction, Trump would be highly unlikely to leave the court in handcuffs, as he is expected to remain free on bail while he appeals.

What would be the reasons for appealing?

The evidence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose alleged sexual encounter with Trump was at the heart of the case, could be one reason.

“The level of detail provided (by Ms. Daniels) is really not necessary to tell the story,” said Anna Cominsky, a professor at New York Law School.

“On the one hand, her details make her credible and as a prosecutor you want to give enough details so that the jury believes what she has to say. On the other hand, there is a line at which it can become irrelevant and harmful.”

Trump’s defense team twice called for a mistrial during Ms. Daniels’ testimony, requests that were denied by the judge.

In addition, the new legal strategy that the public prosecutor has followed in this case may also give rise to an appeal.

Falsifying corporate records can be a lower-level crime in New York, but Trump faced more serious charges for a suspected second offense, an alleged illegal attempt to influence the 2016 election.

Prosecutors broadly alleged that violations of federal and state election laws, along with tax fraud, applied to this case. But they didn’t tell the jury exactly which one was broken.

Legal experts say there are questions surrounding the scope and application of the federal law that could provide a basis for an appeal. Never before has a prosecutor invoked an uncharged federal crime, and it is questionable whether the Manhattan district attorney had the authority to do so.

Can Trump go to jail?

It is possible, but highly unlikely, that Trump will spend time behind bars.

The 34 charges he faced are all Class E felonies in New York, the lowest level in the state. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of four years.

As noted above, there are several reasons why Judge Merchan might choose a lesser sentence, including Trump’s age, his lack of prior convictions, and the fact that the charge involves a non-violent crime.

He could take into account Trump’s violations of the court’s gag orders during the trial.

It’s also possible that the judge would weigh the unprecedented nature of the case, and perhaps choose not to put a former president and current candidate behind bars.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Most observers say Trump is unlikely to receive a prison sentence

There is also a question about practical feasibility. Trump, like all former presidents, is entitled to lifelong protection from the Secret Service. This means that some officers have to protect him in prison.

Still, it would be extremely difficult to run a prison system with a former president as an inmate. It would be a huge safety risk and expensive to keep him safe.

“Prison systems are focused on two things: the security of the institution and keeping costs down,” said Justin Paperny, director of the prison consultancy White Collar Advice.

With Trump, “it would be a freak show… no director would allow it,” he said.

Can he vote?

It is likely that Trump will be able to vote this fall.

Under Florida law – where Trump resides – a person with a felony conviction from another state is ineligible to vote only “if the conviction would make the person ineligible to vote in the state where the person has been convicted”.

Trump was convicted in New York, where felons are allowed to vote as long as they are not currently in prison.

This means that unless Trump is behind bars on November 5, he should be eligible to cast his vote.

Could he forgive himself?

No. Presidents can pardon those who have committed federal offenses. The New York hush money case is a state matter, meaning it would be beyond Trump’s reach if he were to run for president again.

The same goes for Trump’s case in Georgia, where he is accused of a criminal conspiracy to overturn his narrow defeat to President Joe Biden in the state during the 2020 election. This case is currently on appeal.

Pardon authority is unclear for Trump’s two federal cases — one involving alleged mishandling of classified documents, and the other involving conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

In the first case, a Trump-appointed Florida judge postponed the trial indefinitely, saying setting a date before resolving questions about evidence would be “imprudent.” The second open federal case was also postponed while an appeal by Trump was pending.

Neither will happen before the November election, but even if they did, constitutional scholars disagree on whether the president’s power to pardon includes himself. Trump could be the first to try.

With reporting from Madeline Halpert and Kayla Epstein

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