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Donald Trump Faces 88 Counts in Unprecedented Legal Marathon: First Trial Begins in New York

Start of a legal marathon for Donald Trump. Targeted by 88 counts in four separate criminal proceedings, the former President of the United States appears from this Monday, April 15 before the courts of the State of New York for the first of these trials. An absolutely unprecedented scenario since the 45th American president (between 2016 and 2020) is the first of them to find himself indicted in a criminal case and to risk prison.

In recent months, the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election against Democratic President Joe Biden has sought through his multiple appeals to go to trial as late as possible… at least after the November election. If he were elected again, once inaugurated in January 2025, he could order a halt to federal proceedings against him. In the meantime, Donald Trump must answer for his actions in this affair of suspicious payments before his 2016 election.

The accusations against Trump

The case for which the former President of the United States is on trial starting this Monday dates back to the last days of his victorious 2016 electoral campaign. In the final stretch of his race for the White House, a former star of X-rated films – Stormy Daniels –, agrees to receive $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she allegedly had in 2006 with Republican candidate Donald Trump, while the latter denies it.

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These payments, made by Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, were revealed by the Wall Street Journal in January 2018. For the prosecution, it is the concealment of these payments, disguised under the guise of “legal fees” in the accounts of the Trump Organization when they were reimbursed to Michael Cohen, which is at issue. Prosecutor Alvin Bragg sees it as electoral fraud since the aim of the operation was to conceal from citizens information potentially harmful to the Republican candidate.

In this case, Donald Trump faces up to four years in prison for the heaviest charges. The latter was indicted by a grand jury on 34 counts of falsifying documents with a view to committing another crime related to the financing of his campaign. The case takes place before a local court of first instance.

The ex-president’s line of defense

When the scandal broke out in 2018, Donald Trump, then in the White House, denied any relationship with this former X-rated movie actress. The American president at the time claimed to know nothing about the payment… finally saying that he was to stop an attempt to “ extortion “. He pleaded not guilty and denounces a political trial. His lawyers – Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche, forming a duo of seasoned lawyers experienced in white-collar crime – intend to question the reliability of Michael Cohen’s testimony and convince the jury that criminal charges do not stand up.

READ ALSO : Indictment of Donald Trump: “Thanks to his anti-system position, he is still gaining popularity”

Nicknamed the “pitbull”, Michael Cohen has become Donald Trump’s bête noire. Having gone from loyal lieutenant to sworn enemy, he will be a key witness for the prosecution. It was he who paid the money to Stormy Daniels – at the request of Donald Trump, he assures – and federal justice has already condemned him for this payment. Michael Cohen should detail the alleged involvement of the former president before the jury, but the defense will portray a less than credible witness, he who was also convicted of making false statements to the US Congress. The prosecution intends to demonstrate that the Trump camp had a habit of covering up embarrassing affairs with money, relying on two other similar payments.

A jury of twelve citizens presided over by a judge

Starting this Monday, Donald Trump will be judged by a jury of twelve citizens (and up to six alternates) selected from several hundred residents of Manhattan. Everyone will be questioned at length about their opinion regarding Donald Trump or his capacity for impartiality – with the possibility of being challenged by the judge presiding over the proceedings, the defense or the prosecution. A selection which should still last one to two weeks.

Judge Juan Merchan has already announced that the jury will remain anonymous to the public, in order to avoid pressure. Known as courteous but firm, the New York judge will be responsible for presiding over the debates and containing the sometimes volcanic temperament of Donald Trump, without appearing to be a burden. He has already banned the Republican billionaire, who is virulent on social networks, from attacking witnesses and court staff. “ HE HATES ME », a écrit Donald Trump.

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The ex-president’s lawyers asked the judge to recuse himself because of his daughter’s employment in a political consulting firm that had Joe Biden among its clients and for a $35 donation from the magistrate to the president’s campaign. Democrat in 2020. But ultimately, it is the jury that will have to decide unanimously whether Donald Trump is guilty. If so, Judge Juan Merchan will determine the sentence at a later date.

The shadow of a prison sentence

Is a prison sentence possible? Theoretically, yes. If Donald Trump is only found guilty of falsifying accounting documents, the penalty is a maximum of one year in prison. If the jury finds that Donald Trump willfully violated campaign finance laws, the maximum sentence is four years. In all cases, the judge can also pronounce only a fine or an alternative sentence such as probation.

Particularly if he decides to take into account the age of Donald Trump, 77, and the fact that this would be a first criminal conviction. But a lack of contrition and an attitude of defiance in the face of justice would work against him… In the event of a prison sentence, an appeal would probably be suspensive. And in the United States, nothing prevents a person with a criminal conviction from running for the White House.

A trial with uncertain deadlines

Currently, “ approximately between six and eight weeks », According to the court, which will sit every day of the week except Wednesday. The sentence could therefore be pronounced before the election in November 2024. But numerous procedural incidents could delay the debates. Donald Trump’s lawyers have increased their appeals and challenges in recent weeks, obtaining the postponement of the trial from March 25 to April 15. Note that unlike other major trials such as that of OJ Simpson, who died this Thursday, April 11, this one will not be televised, under the law in the State of New York.

2024-04-14 17:17:25
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