Can Trump run for president as a convicted felon?

  31 May 2024    Read: 671
  Can Trump run for president as a convicted felon?

After two days of deliberations, 12 New Yorkers found Donald Trump guilty of all charges in his hush-money case, reports citing BBC. 

It is a history-making verdict following a history-making trial. 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.

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

But this guilty verdict still could sway November’s presidential election. A poll from Bloomberg and Morning Consult earlier this year found that 53% of voters in key swing states would refuse to vote for the Republican if he were convicted.

Another poll, from Quinnipiac University this month, showed 6% of Trump voters would be less likely to vote for him - consequential in such a tight race.

Trump has been free on bail throughout the trial and this did not change after the verdict was read on Thursday - the Republican was released on his own recognisance.

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

The judge will have several factors to consider in sentencing, including Trump’s age.

The sentence could involve a fine, probation or supervision, or possibly prison time.

Trump, who called the ruling a "disgrace", will almost certainly appeal the guilty verdict, a process that could take months or even longer.

His legal team would face the Appellate Division in Manhattan, and possibly the Court of Appeals.

This all means that even after sentencing it would be highly unlikely that Trump will leave the court in handcuffs, as he would be expected to remain free on bail while he appeals.

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 that was provided [by Ms Daniels] is really not necessary to the telling of the story," said Anna Cominsky, a professor at New York Law School.

"On the one hand, her detail makes her credible and as a prosecutor, you want to provide enough detail so the jury believes what she has to say. On the other hand, there's a line, where it could become irrelevant and prejudicial."

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

Beyond that, the novel legal strategy taken by the District Attorney in this case may also provide grounds for appeal.

Falsifying business records can be a lower-level misdemeanour in New York, but Trump faced more serious felony charges because of a supposed second crime, 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 did not specify to the jury exactly which one was broken.

Legal experts say there are questions around the scope and application of the federal law that could form a basis for appeal. Never before has a state prosecutor invoked an uncharged federal crime, and there’s a question if the Manhattan District Attorney had the jurisdiction to do so.

It is possible, though highly unlikely, that Trump will serve time behind bars.

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

As noted above, there are several reasons why Justice Merchan could choose a lesser punishment, including Trump’s age, his lack of previous convictions, and the fact that the charges involve a non-violent crime.

He could consider Trump's violations of the court’s gag orders during the trial.

It is also possible that the judge would weigh the unprecedented nature of the case, perhaps choosing to avoid putting a former president and current candidate behind bars.

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