“That’s when judges hand down jail time”: Ex-NY prosecutors say Trump is daring judge with outburst

Donald Trump became the first former president to ever be convicted of a crime Thursday after a New York jury found him guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to unlawfully influence the 2016 president election.

The presumptive GOP nominee’s historic conviction has plunged the nation into uncharted territory as Americans ready for the November election and appears to hang heavily over Trump himself, who faces three other criminal trials — albeit none with set start dates — and sentencing on his New York offenses in just over a month. 

“He is edging closer every day to drowning in the cesspool he once denounced as the place for grifters, losers, and misfits,” Bennett Gershman, a Pace University law professor and former New York prosecutor, told Salon, also highlighting findings of Trump’s liability for frauddefamation and sexual abuse over the last year and subsequent multimillion-dollar judgments. “Now he is one of them and shares a dirty place with them.”

The verdict followed just hours after the jury asked to hear testimony from the first witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, including his recounting of the 2015 Trump Tower meeting where he agreed to a catch-and-kill scheme publishing positive stories while buying and burying negative ones about Trump and his candidacy.

Jurors also asked to hear ex-Trump-lawyer-turned-vocal-Trump-critic Michael Cohen’s testimony, which aligned with Peckers, according to The New York Times. Those testimonies, the outlet noted, very well could have been what sealed Trump’s fate. 

While presiding Judge Juan Merchan will ultimately administer the former president’s sentence at a hearing on July 11, just days before Trump is expected to be named the GOP presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, legal experts have a range of theories on what exactly the punishment will be and whether prison time will be a part of the equation.

“Frankly, in general, we like to see that convicted criminals get sentenced, serve that sentence and then move on in society. That is for the greater good and that people don’t live with a lifetime stigma, when it comes to their job applications, of a conviction after they’ve served their sentence,” Adam Pollock, a former assistant New York attorney general, told Salon. “I would expect that he will be sentenced, he will serve whatever sentence there is and he would move on in his future career endeavors, which obviously he’s applying for a job.” 

Prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused Trump of writing off $130,000 in hush-money payments as a legal expense as part of a plot to keep voters from learning of an extramarital sexual encounter he allegedly had with an adult film actress in 2006. Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg announced Trump had been indicted by a grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records last April, and the trial began just over a year later following a last-minute delay. 

After six weeks of testimony and two days of deliberation, the jury of 12 of Trump’s peers handed up the verdict, unanimously finding the former president guilty of each charge.  

Prior to his sentencing, the former president will go through the same court-system procedure as any other person convicted of a felony in New York, according to The Times. 

The New York City Department of probation will conduct an interview with Trump, in which the New York State Unified Court System says one can “try to make a good impression and explain why he or she deserves a lighter punishment.” After that, the department will craft a sentencing recommendation for Merchan. 

The New York Supreme Court justice could sentence the former president to up to four years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines for each offense, but time served, conditional discharge, probation — which would require the former president to regularly report to an officer — and other “creative” sentences, like “participating in an anger management program” or doing community service are also options, said Eliza Orlins, a Manhattan public defender whose career spans nearly 15 years.

“I doubt we’re gonna see him in city parks picking up trash, but I do think that they may come up with some creative sentence for him,” Orlins told Salon.

Pollock said that a first time offender on class E felonies — which are the lowest level felony in the state — like Trump, typically faces “no universe” of ending up with jail time. Probation is the most likely sentence, with its terms including conditions such as maintaining or actively seeking employment, drug and alcohol testing, checking in with a probation officer whenever he needs to travel out-of-state and having international travel restrictions or a requirement to get permission to travel internationally. 

But because the former president is employed by the Trump Organization and pursuing the presidency, is famously sober by his own account and actively campaigning, “nothing about a probationary sentence would make sense in this instance,” Pollock said, noting that travel requirements or restrictions would be “a lot to ask for” given Trump’s candidacy.

A short period of home confinement could make sense, but anything too long may lead a lot of people to “view that as somehow fundamentally unfair” for this “level of offense” given Trump’s candidacy, he continued. 

“On one hand, you almost never see a jail sentence for a class E felony, first time offender in New York. Never, never, never,” Pollock added. “But the one time you might see that is in exactly this situation where the defendant continues to insult the judge, continues to insult the institution of justice, continues to display no remorse.”

Shortly after his conviction Thursday, Trump took to the courthouse hallway to decry the verdict as a “disgrace,” repeat his claims that the trial was “rigged” and deny his guilt.

The former president continued to lash out Friday morning, even going on to further deride Merchan as a “devil” during a press conference at Trump Tower. 

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Though these remarks certainly don’t cement a prison sentence for Trump, the lack of remorse the comments show — coupled with his being found in contempt 10 times during trial and months-worth of attacks of the court, the judge, Bragg and others — increase the likelihood of one, experts said. 

“The statements on social media and his press conference this morning were outrageous,” Pollock said. A convicted defendant should be able to say, “‘although I disagreed, I respect the decision of the jury. I respect the court, and I am remorseful that I found myself in this situation,'” Pollock added. “You’ve got to be able to say something like that if you’re going to plea for no jail time. If you come to the court and continue to disrespect the judge and continue to disrespect the institution of justice, that’s when judges hand down jail time.”

Still, Orlins and Pollock said the likelihood of Merchan sentencing Trump to time behind bars is slim. 

“For over a year ever since this indictment came out, I always said I did not believe that Trump would ever spend a single night incarcerated, that he wouldn’t go to jail that he wouldn’t go to prison,” Orlins said, emphasizing she still believes “it is a near impossibility.”

While some may oppose Trump evading prison time citing the “equal administration of justice,” Pollock said “it doesn’t make sense to put the defendant — a serious contender for president — in jail on this crime” in the middle of his campaign.

“I think that Justice Juan Merchan is also aware of that concern because we heard it in the contempt proceedings when Merchan said exactly that,” he added.

Instead, Pollock said he expects Merchan to sentence Trump to a $170,000 criminal fine and three years of probation. Orlins voiced a similar opinion, telling Salon she expects Trump to receive a fine and “hopefully” have other conditions set as part of a conditional discharge. 

Gershman, however, said he expects Merchan to impose a “stiff prison sentence” of 18 to 24 months.

“Trump has escaped accountability his entire life. It seems that now, to use the time-worn phrase, the chickens are coming home to roost. He is finally being held accountable for his wrongful behavior,” Gershman argued, pointing to Trump’s unsavory conduct throughout the trial as “important” indicators for why he should be “punished severely.”

Gershman added, “If we care about the rule of law, which most normal and responsible people do, then there must be some way of dramatically showing all people committed to protecting the rule of law that Donald Trump is not above the law, that he is not a special criminal defendant who deserves to be given special treatment, and despite his age, he should spend many months in a jail cell, even if his security detail needs to be inconvenienced.”

Trump has indicated his plans to appeal the conviction, which could delay any punishment or resolution likely until after the November presidential election. 

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